by Andrea Salina Fleming for the Fairmont News
It’s nearly summer, which means that many of us are spending time working on home improvement projects or kicking off some sort of construction development. At any given time, driving through the community you can see roofs being repaired, decks being built and equipment digging up dirt. Regardless of the size or scope of your project, solid planning and preparation are keys to any project’s success.
As someone who specializes in housing and community development, I would highly recommend approaching the municipality where the work will take place to ensure property permitting is obtained in advance. The city of Fairmont has a user friendly website which can guide developers through the process. Many communities in Marion County do not have formal zoning or code enforcement, but a building permit may still be required. In any event, contacting the local municipality to let them know of the proposed work is a common courtesy. Also it is the law to call Miss Utility (811) before you begin digging no matter where your project is located to ensure no gas lines or other underground utilities are breached.
Step one prior to putting the shovel to the dirt within Fairmont city limits would be to schedule a meeting with the Design Review Committee. This group is made up of various department heads in the City Planning Department, Utilities, public works and fire department. This meeting is free of charge, but must be scheduled in advance. The DRC meets each Wednesday at 10:00am in the City Planner’s office on Jackson Street. The website offers the application and other helpful materials. The group will vet any preconceived issues with a proposed project and provide suggestions for the plan to be both feasible and within the city’s permitted land uses and can be found at https://fairmontwv.gov/360/Site-Plan-Review
Step two would be to review the city’s planning and zoning code to be sure your project fits into the appropriate zoning and is within code requirements. For example, if your plan is to construct multi-unit rental housing, you must make sure the neighborhood is zoned appropriately or you would have to ask for special permission or a variance to have the property rezoned to fit the need. This also applies to lot sizes and square footage of the structure(s) you intend to build. Once again, the city’s website provides all the current codes, zoning and ordinances for review, as well as the required applications and forms if variances are needed. You can review prior Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting agendas and minutes to have an idea of what you can expect. Some requests are heard by the Planning Commission while other requests go before the BZA depending on the breadth of the request.
Some folks ask “why zoning?” In 1916, New York City responded to the emergence of high-rises, factories and warehouses which encroached upon neighborhoods and retail spaces, by passing the country’s first comprehensive zoning code. That effort was spearheaded by lawyer Edward Bassett, who went on to invent the freeway and parkway. The notion of zoning is not a new or unnecessary concept. The chief principal of zoning is to isolate uses that are thought to be incompatible. Additionally zoning is applied to prevent new development from interfering with existing uses and/or to preserve the “character” of a community.
The forthcoming city of Fairmont comprehensive plan is slated to be released sometime later this summer. The plan has moved to the public hearing stage in order for the community to voice any concerns or proposed changes to the plan. Several elements of land use planning are addressed in the updated plan. A draft copy is also on the city of Fairmont’s website for review.
Remember to plan, review and reach out to get all the pertinent information to make your project a success.