Board debates building rules along U.S. 11

WOODSTOCK – Some Shenandoah County supervisors want to scrap rules for building along U.S. 11 they say stunt economic growth.

The Board of Supervisors discussed at a recent work session the Planning Commission Code Review Committee’s examination of the Old Valley Pike Overlay District – a set of regulations adopted in 2008 that oversee construction along the U.S. 11 corridor. Half of the board members said they want the county to repeal the ordinance and let the committee continue its review. The other three pushed to revise the ordinance rather than eliminate it.

After the debate, Chairman Conrad Helsley said that county staff will come back in the fall to present any changes to the ordinance or for the board to consider the repeal. The committee meets again at 10 a.m. Thursday in the government center.

Director of Community Development Bradley Polk updated supervisors on the committee’s effort to consider modifications of the ordinance. The panel includes three members of the Planning Commission, County Planner Garrett Morgan and Zoning and Subdivision Administrator Joyce Fadeley. District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey also has sat in on some meetings.

The board would need to adopt a resolution of intent to amend the zoning ordinance to make changes to the regulations or to repeal the rules altogether, Polk said. The Planning Commission and the supervisors would need to hold a joint public hearing to amend the zoning ordinance. Such action also would change the zoning map and require the county to notify the owners of approximately 4,000 parcels in the corridor.

Helsley and District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese said they felt the committee should continue its review of the district regulations.

But Vice Chairman Richard Walker went a step further.

“It’s one thing to have the zoning ordinance that says this is what’s permitted and this is what has to have a special-use permit,” Walker said. “It’s altogether something else when you say not only are we going to tell you what you can do, we’re going to tell you how you have to do it and now you have to submit a lighting plan and a landscape plan requiring this stuff on parking lots and everything.

“I think it would be worthwhile for us to look at removing the ordinance until they study it and come up with something that’s workable and I think it would be imperative for Shenandoah County to basically say we’re not going to over-regulate or micromanage the businesses that are looking to come in, that we want to encourage businesses to come in and I think removing the ordinance would be the equivalent of hanging the shingle out saying that Shenandoah County is open for business,” Walker added.

The committee began its review of the ordinance in 2014.

The Board of Zoning Appeals has recommended that the zoning administrator review the overlay district regulations, Bailey noted. The rules do not promote the intended desire, Bailey added. The regulations also become cost prohibitive for businesses and other developers.

Bailey sided with Walker in saying that the county could take the ordinance off the books while the committee continues its review.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz concurred with Walker and Bailey.

“It’s bad business, period,” Shruntz said.

Helsley, who voted against the ordinance when the county adopted it, said the process isn’t that simple, noting that the county would need to notify all property owners in the district, taking up staff time. But Helsley added that he sees regulations in the ordinance that are not practical. Helsley said he didn’t think it would take long for the committee to review the ordinance and come back with recommendations for changes.

Bailey argued that in the two years since the committee began its review, the ordinance might have kept potential businesses from opening along the corridor. Helsley pointed out that the committee hasn’t actually reviewed the ordinance since 2014. Rather, the panel tweaked a few parts of the ordinance.

“What good has it done?” Walker asked.

Bailey reiterated that two years have passed without results because the Office of Community Development has not been able to fully review the ordinance.

Bailey cited a presentation that showed only one business went through the steps required to develop in the district. Walker said the ordinance required every business seeking to develop in the corridor to go through the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“That’s the definition of too much government,” Walker said.

But developers only need to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals to obtain a variance from the ordinance if they cannot otherwise build on the property under the regulations, Polk said. In one case, Helsley noted, a business seeking to locate in the Toms Brook area sought a variance from the part of the ordinance that required the developer build a sidewalk. Helsley pointed out that a sidewalk didn’t make sense on that site.

The ordinance creates obstacles rather than encourage development, Walker said.

The county held a public hearing before adopting the overlay district, Helsley noted. It would take months to go through the public process to eliminate the ordinance, Helsley added.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com