Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the purpose of zoning and why do we need it?
The purpose of zoning is to guide and control building and land uses. The intent of zoning regulations is to allow property owners reasonable use of their property as long as it is not incompatible or detrimental to abutting properties. Zoning is an implementation tool of the City's Comprehensive Plan, which is a general document that guides future development of the locality. The Comprehensive Plan is general in nature and is not static as it is required to be updated every ten (10) years.
Implementation of the City's Comprehensive Plan is accomplished through the Martinsburg Zoning Ordinance and the zoning maps. Every property in the City is mapped and located within a specific zoning classification, which determines how the property can be used and developed. Each zoning district classification incorporates regulations that also govern the density and physical layout of uses within the district.
What does the Planning Department review?
The Planning Staff reviews applications and other requests to verify that the use and other features of the property are met. Specific uses fall into the following broad categories: residential, business or industrial.
Planning Department Staff reviews are required for the following applications:
- All Zoning Confirmation Letter requests
- All Home Occupation applications
- All Certificate of Occupancy applications
- All Use and Occupancy applications
- All Sign Permit applications
- Any application involving a Demolition Permit or for any exterior work on buildings located within the Downtown Historic Overlay District and requiring a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Review Commission (HPRC). This includes roofing, exterior repairs, window replacement, siding, wall or fencing work and painting (color revisions).
- Building Permits for all residential and commercial construction and renovation (interior and exterior) including:
- Electrical Permits including, but not limited to, panel upgrades and new service
- Plumbing Permits
- Mechanical Permits
- Grading Permits
What is a building permit and when is one required?
A Building Permit is a document that permits construction or any change to the use of any property, as determined by the Building Code, including additions and alterations and certain accessory buildings or structures (i.e.: garages, decks, walls, fences, swimming pools, signs, etc.). A building permit application must indicate the existing and proposed improvements to take place on the property. New buildings or additions must also include a survey or site plan (plan of the property showing the location of all improvements in relation to the property lines).
State law requires an asbestos inspection prior to any demolition or renovation project. Depending on the findings of the inspection abatement may be necessary before demolition or of any asbestos containing material that will be disturbed during renovation.
Once reviewed, permits (if determined to comply with code requirements) are approved to authorize the requested work. After approval, and once the work progresses, it is necessary to request periodic inspections of the work in order to receive approval of the various phases and components of the construction. Inspections may be requested by phoning the Planning Department at (304) 264-2131 Ext. 266 by 3pm the day prior to the requested date of inspection.
Do I need a building permit to build a wall or fence?
All fences and walls require a building permit. A fence or wall can be located on the rear and side property lines if it does not exceed seven (7) feet in height and, in the case of the side yard, does not extend past the front of the structure.
- Front yard fences or walls cannot exceed four feet (4’) in height in the front (between the street line and the main building wall) yard.
- Corner Lots (with two or even three frontages) are subject to the same height restrictions as a front yard and may not exceed four (4) feet in height.
Fences and walls on properties located within Downtown Historic Overlay District also require Historic Preservation Review Commission (HPRC) approval.
It is also recommended that prior to erecting a fence you should obtain a survey to ensure the location of the property line(s), any easement(s) and/or underground utilities.
Can I build a garage or shed on my property?
Accessory buildings (garages, tool and storage sheds, etc.), including prefabricated buildings, typically must be set a minimum distance of five feet (5’) from a property line or from any other structure in residential districts. On commercially and industrially zoned parcels, this minimum distance, known as a yard or setback, varies and is specified in the Zoning Ordinance. All accessory structures require a building permit and all professional (compensated) installers and contractors are required to have a valid State of WV Business License and a City of Martinsburg Business License. If the cost of the accessory structure exceeds $2,500 the professional installer/contractor may also be required to hold a valid WV Contractor’s license. Contact the Planning Department for a building permit and all regulations pertaining to installing your new accessory structure.
Important: When replacing an existing accessory structure, contact the Planning Department PRIOR to demolition. When replacing non-conforming (“grandfathered”) structures (structures possibly already located in required setbacks or those that already exceed maximum size allowance), proof of the existing footprint may be required if you are planning on rebuilding in the same location or at that previous size.
Can I build anything in the easement on my property?
Some properties have easements on them that allow the use of the area for specific purposes. These generally include easements for utilities (gas, water or sewer), telephone, cable and power. Since there may be gas pipes or power cables under the surface that could severely injure someone, it is very important not to dig in these areas without contacting Miss Utility prior to any construction or digging. Generally, if you build in an easement, the company or entity that has an interest or ownership in the easement, can remove any improvement (shed, fence, etc.) or vegetation (trees, shrubs,
flowers, etc.) without your permission or notification. Typically, an easement is shown on the survey or plat of the property.
Where can I obtain a copy of my survey or plat?
Surveys of properties, if they exist, are typically recorded with the deed to your property. Deeds are not recorded at City Hall; this is a Berkeley County function and records are kept by the County Clerk’s Office located at 100 W. King Street in downtown Martinsburg (the intersection of King and Queen Streets). Their office hours are Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm and staff can be reached at (304) 264-1929.
What if my project doesn’t meet zoning requirements?
Planning Department staff, during the zoning review process, will contact you if they discover non-compliance with zoning requirements. During these discussions, they will offer you alternatives and suggestions on how the project may be amended to meet code regulations without having to obtain special approval(s). However, in certain instances, your project may require additional or special approval(s) such as an Variance or Special Exception. In these instances, you will be advised as to whom to contact for your particular situation.
What is a Variance or Special Exception and how do I obtain approval?
A Variance or a Special Exception is a waiver process whereby the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) can grant relief from zoning requirements on your property. Either approval process is subject to specific limitations regarding the granting of these waivers, which are the result of a unique or extraordinary situation such as topography, shape of the site or some other unusual factor(s). Variances typically waive yard (setback) requirements and a Special Exception typically allows waivers to other zoning requirements of the property. If it is determined that a Variance or a Special Exception is needed, Planning Department staff will assist you. Due to legal notice requirements, you ay need to submit an application package to the Planning Department often sixty (60) days prior to the public hearing. Both processes require that you submit a completed application and fee, two (2) sets of a survey (or site plan), and design drawings (floor plans & elevations) showing the proposed project if required. Public hearings for the Board of Zoning Appeals are held the first Tuesday of each month at City Hall. The applicant or their legally designated representative MUST be present for the request to be heard and considered for approval. For information on the Variance and Special Exception process information, please contact the City Planner’s Office at (304) 264-2131 ext. 266
How do I find out if my property is in a historic district?
Martinsburg has a considerable number of properties that are historically significant and are located within the Historic Overlay District. These properties are subject to an additional approval process through the Historic Preservation Review Commission (HPRC). This Commission meets the first Monday of each month to consider requests for exterior renovation and changes to historic structures. To obtain a map of the City’s Historic Overlay District and information noting the property owner’s responsibilities, contact the City Planner’s Office at (304-264-2131) ext. 266.
My neighbor has a bunch of junk and trash on his property, what do I do?
Improper storage and accumulation of garbage and rubbish may attract rodents, animals or other vermin, produce noxious odors and create potential health hazards. Garbage should be placed in leak-proof and covered containers. The accumulation of rubbish such as ashes, paper, rags, cartons, boxes, wood, tree branches and yard trimmings, tin cans, metal, discarded appliances and other inoperable mechanical equipment is not permitted and should be disposed of properly. You may contact the Code Enforcement Officer at (304) 264-2131 Ext 266 or visit the Planning Department in person regarding accumulation of these items.
How high can grass, weeds or shrubs grow before it is a violation?
City Code can require owner to cut grass and weeds on property when it gets to a height of ten inches (10"). Bushes, shrubs, hedges and other similar vegetation shall not project into the street, alley or sidewalk. Each owner is responsible for his or her property. You may contact the Code Enforcement Officer at (304) 264-2131 Ext. 266 or visit Planning Department in person regarding vegetation violations.
My neighbor’s tree is hanging over my house, can I remove it?
You generally have the legal right to trim branches of a neighbor’s tree that hang over your property line. However, if you seriously damage the tree, you may be liable for the harm done. The City does not regulate or maintain trees on private property. It is suggested you contact an attorney experienced in real estate law regarding these issues prior to trimming or removing a neighbor’s tree.
How many people can live in an apartment or house?
Current zoning requirements limit occupancy of individual apartments or houses to no more than four (4) unrelated persons.
Can I operate a business out of my home?
A business operated within a house or apartment is known as a Home Occupation and is a permitted accessory use, subject to certain limitations. Generally speaking, certain businesses that do not generate customer or employee traffic, manufacture or store materials or require the use of commercial-sized vehicles are permitted. A list of approved Home Occupations can be found in the Definitions section of the Zoning Ordinance. Contact the City Planner’s office to discuss Home Occupations that are not specifically listed at (304) 264-2131 Ext. 266 or visit them in person at the Planning Department.
Can I obtain a copy of the Zoning Ordinance or Zoning Maps?
The Zoning Ordinance is available online or a printed copy may be purchased for twenty-five dollars ($25.00) from City Hall.
How do I resolve a dispute about a property line?
There is nothing that the City can do about this issue; this is a private matter between the individual parties and must be resolved in civil court. Fences and privacy walls (or certain other structures) that are on your property without your permission are a civil matter between the owners and the City typically cannot force their removal. Contact an attorney experienced in real estate or property law in matters regarding property line disputes. The property survey will typically show all improvements on the property, including fences, walls and building setbacks, that may also help assist in determining the location of your property line.
Does the City enforce any covenants or restrictions applicable to my property?
Some properties in some subdivisions are subject to covenants or deed restrictions that regulate the use of property beyond the limitations of the Zoning Ordinance. These deed restrictions and covenants are private agreements between property owners and are not enforced by the City.