Situated along the banks of the Ohio River, Wellsburg serves as the county seat for Brooke County in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. The city worked with the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic to adopt a comprehensive plan in November 2014 and has since been working to complete all high-priority goals. Of all goals intended to be completed by November 2019, 80% are in progress or are already completed.
The first goal, “ Create sound land use strategies” noted a special focus on the completion of a bridge project. Construction of the proposed bridge is set to begin in 2018 and should be completed in 2021. The bridge will cross the Ohio River just south of Wellsburg and will connect West Virginia Route 2 to Ohio Route 7. The completion will require a large amount of cooperation between state agencies, neighboring counties, and the City of Brilliant, Ohio. Updating the zoning ordinance is an additional priority; and will be carried out with help from LUSD attorney Jared Anderson. Mayor Sue Simonetti has put an emphasis on annexation and the education of public officials on the annexation process, but any attempts by the city to annex surrounding lands have been denied by the county commission.
“We’ve had a survey done of property north and south of Wellsburg which will probably include about 400 acres,” said Mayor Simonetti regarding annexation attempts. “We put together a petition and presented it to our county commission but they denied it… it’s costly, and we don’t have the money to put out there if they’re just going to tell us no.”
Objectives to create a subdivision ordinance and establish a Community Rating System (CRS) to lower flood insurance premiums have yet to begin.
Goal Two sought to establish a business incubator and encourage lodging sector businesses to locate in Wellsburg. Neither have been completed, but both are in progress. When the zoning ordinance is updated, there are plans to ensure that commercial districts are appropriately zoned to promote business in the city. A $650,000 grant application to upgrade sidewalks and rejuvenate the city was not successful this cycle but the city hopes to receive the money necessary to address inadequate sidewalks.
When the city adopted the plan in 2014, 12.5% of properties in the city were declared vacant, an increase from 8.8% in 2000. Nearly half of the housing in the city (49.1%) was built prior to 1940, often an indicator of dilapidation. Still, the average property value within the city is almost $25,000 more than the state average. These things considered, Goal Three addressed the development and redevelopment of Wellsburg. The city has identified 56 properties within the city that are considered dilapidated, in addition to identifying and declaring areas in the city that are slum or blighted. Notices have been sent to land owners to correct the issues. City government has worked with the Wellsburg Urban Redevelopment Authority to create redevelopment plans for the properties. Additionally, Wellsburg is currently attempting to educate citizens about the advantages of taking more than the minimum required steps for flood mitigation. Mayor Simonetti is hopeful the floodplain maps can be redone.
“This last time they changed it… they’re planning for water that simply won’t get there,” says the mayor. “We know this. In my personal opinion the risk factor is too high.”
Goal Four, “ Improve infrastructure within the city” notes a need for sidewalk improvements. A $650,000 grant to upgrade sidewalks and rejuvenate the city was unsuccessful.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Mayor Simonetti. “It was money that needed to be matched 20% by the city and the council members didn’t feel that we had the money to match so we turned the money back. So that fell through.”
Goal Four also seeks to improve water quality. The city has been following the Long Term Control Plan and is in the process of eliminating combined sewer systems within the city. Implementation of the water meter replacement program is under way, as is a focus on electrical and operation costs of municipal wastewater facilities. The final objectives of goal four, widening Commerce Street and Route 2, are dependent upon state projects.
The final goal with high-priority objectives addressed city marketing. Wellsburg hopes to create a city branding strategy that would draw both prospective business owners and tourists. The conversation of city branding is underway. This has been started, with ideas for a TV commercial to market the city in progress. A municipal website has been created, but is not yet fully-functional.
“We do have some really good businesses in Wellsburg and we’d like to promote them.” says Mayor Simonetti.
Goal Six addressed the need for additional youth activities, but all objectives were set for a long-term completion.
Overall, Wellsburg is doing a quality job carrying out the plan. Just halfway in to the five-year implementation matrix, 20 of 25 original goals are in progress or completed.