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Panel backs university's move to Martinsburg Mall

October 07, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Mountain State University moved one step closer to a new home at the Martinsburg Mall on Wednesday, when it received support from the city planning commission to allow colleges and universities in the planned business zone.

The unanimous vote followed a public hearing where only one person spoke in favor of the proposal.

"If we can enhance education in the city of Martinsburg, I say go for it," City Councilman Richard Yauger said.

Before voting to recommend the change to city council, the commissioners expressed only few concerns with the idea, including the effect on retail and parking and the concept of having a school in a mall.

Commissioner Steve Workings questioned the far-reaching effects of changing language in the table, specifically asking if there was another method by which the university could achieve its goal.

Amending the table of zoning uses to allow universities in the planned business zone would affect more than just the mall, City Engineer Mike Covell said. Areas along South Raleigh Street and Edwin Miller Boulevard would also be affected, however business and trade schools are currently permitted in the zone, he said.

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While Mountain State University could use other means to its end, including adding a zoning district to the table, Covell said changing the text of the table was most common.

Provost and Executive Vice President Layne Diehl said the school hopes to work with the mall to inject new energy into the struggling retail center.

"The applicant's expansion would bring more people to the mall and the area (around it) on a daily basis seeking (Mountain State's) educational services," she wrote an application to the planning commission.

Having a school in a mall is nothing new, Diehl said.

She said the closest example, to her knowledge, was Valley Mall in Hagerstown, where Hagerstown Community College holds some classes, where stores thrive and patrons have plenty of parking.

Councilman Gregg Wachtel, who also serves on the commission, said he was aware of discussions between Pantran and the mall to provide additional public transportation to the mall if the school relocates. He said having more bus services could also free up parking.

The unanimous vote will provide the City Council with a recommendation to approve amending the table.

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