City council got its first official glimpse at the document that may change the way Fairmont’s planning department does business.

City Planner Jay Rogers presented council with a proposed zoning ordinance Tuesday night. If passed by a vote of council Sept. 26, it will be the first substantial overhaul of the city zoning code since its inception in 1959.

Two public hearings will precede council’s vote on the ordinance. To truly open the document up for public comment, one hearing is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, and the second will be held during council’s regular 7 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

The new zoning code was the natural continuation of the effort the Fairmont Planning Commission took on when it updated its comprehensive plan last summer, City Manager Bruce McDaniel said.

Changes in state legislation two years ago gave cities more flexibility when it comes to zoning, but by law, those cities have to go through the process of updating the comprehensive plan to take advantage of the changes.

For the past year, the city’s planning staff has worked with the commission to take the current zoning code and the comprehensive plan to create a draft ordinance that may promote development within the city’s limits.

While two members of city council also sit on the planning commission — Mayor Nick Fantasia and Councilman De’Andrea Bussey — Tuesday was the first chance for the seven other members to pose questions about the document in a public forum.

Councilman Scott Sears asked about the code’s take on “spot zoning,” or rezoning of a single parcel or a small area to benefit one or more property owners.

“It’s always been very clear that spot zoning is illegal,” Rogers said. “It is illegal in the United States, and it is illegal in West Virginia. What may be unclear is what determines a ‘spot.’

“I will assure you that you will not find ‘spots’ in this document,” he said.

But what is in the document is a sense of flexibility. While the old zoning map had a vast Residence A section — the strictest zone with no permitted use outside of single-family homes — has been reduced and renamed “general residence.”

However, some historically residential areas have been opened up for mixed use, or both business and residential, on a conditional use basis. If a business were to be established in these areas, and it falls within the permitted uses of the neighborhood, an owner must meet the guidelines set up within the code.

In other business, city officials announced that Fairmont is the recipient of a $150,000 SAFETEA-LU transportation enhancement grant to go toward its rail trail project. The grant is an 80/20 percent match, and the city will have to dedicate $37,500 to the project.

Rogers said the money will go toward the acquisition of property of the rail-trail line from Watson Bridge to downtown Fairmont and construction. The project will be designed in house.

E-mail Misty Poe at mpoe@timeswv.com.

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