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Martinsburg eyes expanding historic zoning district

December 11, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A proposed expansion of Martinsburg's historic zoning district, which triggers public review of demolition permit requests and other permit applications that seek to alter building exteriors, is on track for adoption by City Council next month.

The ordinance to amend and expand the Historic Preservation Overlay District is expected to be read a third time in January after City Council voted unanimously Thursday evening to have legal counsel Floyd M. "Kin" Sayre read the ordinance's title twice in Thursday's meeting.

Council's consideration of the proposed ordinance attracted only one resident with a concern about the expansion.

At the meeting, Boyd Avenue resident Ronald Eaton received assurances that exterior plans for his property could be grandfathered and not be subjected to review by the Historic Preservation Review Commission (HPRC) if they are submitted in advance of council's adoption of the ordinance.

Any decision by the HPRC regarding exterior building permit and demolition applications may be appealed to City Council for reconsideration, according to the city's zoning ordinance.

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If adopted, more than 30 blocks of the city would be added to the district, including Aspen Hall, a French and Indian War-era estate at the end of Boyd Avenue where George Washington attended a wedding, and Boydville, an 1812 mansion along South Queen Street, which was saved from an almost certain fiery end by Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War. The B&O roundhouse also would be included in the district.

The absence of public concern Thursday came after eight people among a vocal crowd attending the city planning commission's November meeting aired a number of concerns about the proposal.

Richard W. "Dick" Klein of Alpha Associates Inc., was critical of the HPRC's review process, suggesting the city needed to rewrite the ordinance to allow for preapproved paint colors and discretionary approvals by staff before expanding the district, according to meeting minutes.

HPRC member Kevin Walker told planning commissioners last month that the review panel has been considering preapproved paint colors and personally believes efforts to streamline the process would be beneficial.

While a $25 application fee is charged for the HPRC reviews, Walker contended that the benefit of federal and state tax credits that are available to property owners offset historically appropriate renovation.

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