Marlinton council approves variance for new downtown building
Nationwide Insurance broker Jim Bialek told Marlinton Town Council Monday night that his business will have a new home on Main Street by July 1. The businessman plans to build a 24-by-50 foot office next to The Pocahontas Times. The office was formerly located in the Old Bank Building, which was destroyed by fire on November 10. Bialek currently operates the business at a temporary location on Second Avenue.
Bialek requested a variance to the town setback ordinance, which requires that new buildings be built a minimum of 10 feet from adjacent buildings. The lot is 24-feet wide facing Main Street and 120-feet long.
Mayor Joe Smith said town attorney Steve Hunter gave his opinion that a grandfather clause allowed construction on the same footprint as a previously existing structure. Nevertheless, council voted to grant a variance, which will allow Bialek to build within one-and-a-half feet from The Pocahontas Times.
“If you took this ordinance at face value and said you had to have 10 feet, that takes a 24-foot lot down to four feet,” said Smith. “We need businesses in town. It would be nice to see new structures in town. So I recommend to the council that we waiver the 10-foot setback to a minimum of a foot-and-a-half.”
Bialek said he had built four buildings in commercial zones elsewhere, and always was allowed to build up to the property line.
“In my plan, I’m looking at about a 1,000 square foot building,” he said. “I need a 20-foot width with the overhang for the soffit. So, we’re looking at about 22 feet wide. The side of the wall that faces the Times Building, the block would be three feet from the building. Then I’d like to have a foot overhang for the perforated soffit.”
Bialek said the building would be built above the floodplain, as required by the town’s floodplain ordinance. He said the building’s front will face the alleyway, with an entrance on the side facing Main Street.
“We’re probably going to be above the Times Building,” he said. “Single story, but we’re building four blocks high with the band board going around. So, we’re 42 to 44 inches off the surface.”
Council unanimously approved a variance to allow Bialek to proceed with a minimum one-and-a-half foot setback. Councilmembers Norris Long and Louise Barnisky were not present. Town Recorder Robin Mutscheller recused herself because of a potential conflict of interest.
Council then considered a change to the setback ordinance, which was also on the agenda. Long had recommended a change from a 10-foot setback to a five-foot setback in all areas of town, and a case-by-case evaluation of grandfathered structures.
“The change needs to be made in the business district,” said Smith.
Marlinton’s business district includes an area encompassed by First to Fifth Avenues and 7th to 9th Streets. Smith said the more dense construction in the business district justified a smaller setback.
“Should we just say it should be 10 feet in residential and five feet in business?” asked Councilmember David Zorn.
Zorn moved to amend the setback ordinance to five feet in the business district and leave the 10-foot setback in place outside the business district. Council unanimously approved the amended ordinance, which will include a grandfather clause to allow case-by-case consideration for construction that replaces previously existing structures.
Smith said he had conferred with Hunter about the town Building Commission, which owns the mostly vacant lot in the downtown business district next to the Pocahontas County Opera House. The attorney told the mayor that the commission exists in perpetuity, but has become inactive because all commission members’ terms have expired.
The mayor said council would have to appoint new members in order for the Building Commission to take action on the lot in the downtown business district. Smith said former Building Commission Chairman Ernie Shaw is interested in serving again, but council took no action on an appointment.
“Review what I gave you on the Building Commission; think about some new appointments and, hopefully, in April, we can re-activate the Building Commission,” said the mayor.
After discussing the member-less Building Commission, Council formed a new Planning Commission, which will have the task to create a long-term plan for Marlinton. Council appointed Roger Cain, Mark Strauss, B.J.Gudmundsson, Zorn and Smith to the new body.
Smith said he and Long had conducted planning for an in-town, archery-only deer hunt, proposed for the two weeks prior to buck gun season in the fall. Council previously discussed the urban hunt to reduce the town’s deer population. The two committee members identified potential hunting areas inside the town, contacted 28 property owners, and scheduled a public meeting with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
A public meeting with Rob Sylvester, DNR wildlife biologist, is scheduled for March 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Municipal Building.
In other business, Marlinton Council:
- Approved the purchase of three ladder grab posts for manholes.
- Approved the use of the Mini-Park by Americorps for recycling during spring cleanup week.
- Tabled action on the Health and Sanitation ordinance.
Council scheduled a special meeting on March 17 at 7 p.m., when it will review and take action on the town’s fiscal year 2014 budget.