Board OKs changes to U.S. 11 building rules

WOODSTOCK – The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors loosened rules on construction along U.S. 11 that some leaders say prohibited economic development.

The 6-0 vote to change regulations in the Old Valley Pike Overlay District came after months of work by county officials, the Planning Commission and the board.

District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker made a motion to approve the changes to the overlay district regulations. District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese seconded the motion.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey opened her comments on the proposed changes by reminding the board “how we got here.” Bailey cited a report given in 2014 to the Planning Commission by Zoning Administrator Joyce Fadeley in which the official stated the ordinance establishing the overlay district regulations failed to deliver on the desired results. The regulations sparked a series of problems that went beyond anyone’s control, Bailey read from Fadeley’s report. The Board of Zoning Appeals asked Fadeley then to review the overlay district regulations. However, Fadeley stated at the time that the ordinance would continue to pose problems unless removed in full. The overlay district regulations prohibited businesses from starting in the affected area, Bailey said.

“I think … some of the changes that were made and the toning down of some of the requirements hasn’t gone far enough,” Bailey said. “I think we’re gonna find that it’s still cost prohibitive for business. The objective is to bring businesses in.”

Vice Chairman Richard Walker pointed out that the three people who spoke during the public hearing on the proposed changes claimed the regulations constrained them as property owners in the overlay district. Walker said he agreed with Bailey that the changes don’t go far enough. The supervisor noted that the regulations would not permit the government center parking lot as landscaped. Parking lots no longer need to feature large islands or curb and gutters as part of the proposed changes to the ordinance, Walker said.

“I am pleased that it has been toned down some but I, frankly, would like to see it eliminated,” Walker said.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz said she’s been on the fence with the issue for a while and thanked the Planning Commission’s committee that looked at the regulations. Shruntz said the board can come back later and make more changes to the rules.

Chairman Conrad Helsley didn’t vote in favor of changes to the regulations initially. Helsley recalled meeting with Fadeley to discuss changes to the regulations that would make them more business friendly. The chairman called the proposed changes “a good compromise” and said the board can always revisit the regulations and consider more alterations. Helsley said he likes some parts of the district regulations such as the requirement that the fronts of buildings along U.S. 11 face the highway. Helsley added that fences rather than trees would look better as a visual barrier in front of certain types of businesses along U.S. 11.

The overlay district rules still require that property owners replace trees within a certain amount of time, Bailey noted. However, the zoning administrator can grant an extension on that time, Helsley pointed out. Bailey asked Helsley if he felt comfortable that the regulations call for high fines for any violation of the regulations. Helsley replied by asking how many times the county has had to impose such penalties. Bailey said developers don’t worry about whether or not the county enforces such rules. Developers do worry about how the regulations would affect the cost of their project, she added.