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Town Hall plans will go to BZA

By Staff | Jul 24, 2009

Plans to demolish the existing Town Hall at 104 N. King St. and construct a replacement in its place were rejected by the Shepherdstown Planning Commission on Monday evening at Town Hall over violations of a number of zoning ordinances.

The Town Hall Construction Committee now has 45 days to file an appeal with the Board of Zoning Appeals, which has the power to grant exemptions to zoning ordinances. The rejection was not a surprise to the members of the THCC, which designed the proposed Town Hall fully aware of the zoning violations and the subsequent need to appeal to the BZA.

The zoning violations cited in the motion to reject the application include front, side, and rear setback requirements, lot merger requirements and parking requirements. The building’s footprint almost completely fills up the two lots upon which the proposed Town Hall would be located. This violates setback ordinances requiring a 20-foot minimum setback from the front property line, a 5-foot minimum setback for one side yard, and a “back yard” setback requiring the rear 50 percent of lot depth be open. The two lots upon which the proposed Town Hall would be built need to be merged into a single lot. Also, the BZA must grant an exemption to town zoning ordinance requiring public or semi-public buildings provide five off-street parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area.

While the final motion to reject adhered strictly to zoning ordinance, the Planning Commission spent more than two hours, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., questioning Shepherdstown architect Andy Singletary, THCC members, and their proposal to demolish the existing Town Hall for a new Town Hall. Planning commissioners Harvey Heyser, Catherine Wilson, and Karene Motivans criticized the proposal because of a lack of deference paid to the existing sloped concrete-block Town Hall, built in 1948. Motivans argued that it was disappointing that the proposal only included “three paragraphs of unemotional language” on the existing Town Hall. “It feels like a death,” said an emotional Wilson during the meeting. “And a discussion is needed to come to a closure with this building.”

After the meeting, Heyser said he was “tired of applicants only doing the bare minimum in these applications. We would like to see the town set a good example for other applicants and include more historic information in their application.” Motivans also supported this notion, saying after the meeting that “asking the town to go above and beyond sets a wonderful example for the town.” She concedes, however, that there is no requirement in the town ordinance for applicants seeking the approval of the Planning Commission to include information about the history of structures in question.

Before the Planning Commission meeting, the Historic Landmarks Commission stipulated that, before it is demolished, the existing Town Hall be thoroughly documented according to the National Park Service’s Historic American Building Survey standards.