Divided Huntington Council Caves to Audience Preference; Resident Commends Them for Their Action

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter

Neighborhood members opposing project
Neighborhood members opposing project
HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – Members of Huntington City Council apparently fell to the will of the standing room only crowd and therein abandoned an opportunity for the always gasping general fund to gain a breather.

One the table: Rezoning a piece of industrial property barren for 20 plus years. The option: A gated apartment complex of up to 130. The worry: Will the upper middle to upper class amenities sink into strips of low income project styled housing? Neighborhood complaints summed to size, turnover, density, and traffic.

Ray Browning, a frequent council commentator, told the body, “they had a tiger by the tail,” then, asked that they imagine their own dwelling “across the street from this complex.”

While one woman said her family would “move” if council approved the project, Pat Simmons expressed a widely mentioned suggestion “that I’m not asking it be shut down,” just “downsize to something more suitable.”

Divided Huntington Council Caves to Audience Preference; Resident Commends Them for Their Action
Some Residents expressed worries about the upscale gated community turning into a location for less desirables in 20 years. Another counted the make-up of the neighborhood on W. Ninth Avenue as including about eight businesses, about a hundred apartments (including former single family dwellings converted into duplexes and triplexes) and about 72 homes.

Although some owners had in the past “fallen in love with the neighborhood,” others admitted that the stagnant community had shortcomings with the industrial “blight” staying unutilized for 23 years.

Developer Alex Vence (center)
Developer Alex Vence (center)
David Yon, a community member and attorney for the developer, argued the project “would create a neighborhood not destroy one,” adding “no one has stepped up to the plate” in 23 years and that as it set the location is a “blighted piece of property.”

Nate Randolph took heat for his stance, which countered constituents for a position that he felt would be best for the city.

“It’s an educated risk. We have to embrace opportunity when we have it,” Randolph stated noting this was not “pandering to special interests.”

After hearing a long parade of complaints (just like the occupation tax, except these were Huntington voters) , a councilman polled the room through a show of hands. Those in the gallery were overwhelmingly against the project.

However, developer Alex Vence countered the opposition by having obtained partial results of a HD poll which outside the affected neighborhood ran 66-34 in favor of the project.

Divided Huntington Council Caves to Audience Preference; Resident Commends Them for Their Action
ouncil member Sandra Clements had led the opposition. Following the vote, she told the audience to make their acceptable uses known. An amenable gesture which considering the years of vacancy cried for that will please the populace and be a money maker for the developer.

She supported an R-4 zoning, which would include single family homes, condominiums and townhouses, but not apartment complexes.

Previously, real estate trends had been cited that the city needs more modern housing units, but, as with the nation as a whole, the recessionary economy has more individuals seeking apartments, not home ownership.

The ordinance failed with a 5-5 tie. Councilman Jim Insco abstained since he does business with the developer, Alex Vence.

Vence has a solid reputation for his apartment rentals in the vicinity of Marshall University. Often, his new projects have been leased before under roof.

Terry Ballard, a resident of Third Street West and Eighth Avenue, provided a statement following the meeting: "You have to commend the [city council] of Huntington for their vote tonight. This city has demonstrated time and again that they will listen to residentswhen it involves rezoning residential areas of the city with development projects that do not enhance neighborhoods."

Ballard continued, "I urge all the people who have moved away for whatever reason , to consider coming back. Our council appears willing to listen to those of us who live here and enjoy Huntington. Possibly, Huntington can once again be looked upon as a place to spend your life."

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