Woodstock discussing overlay district for more aesthetic control

WOODSTOCK – The town, like several other area entities, is seeking more control over its appearance.

Planning Commission members are drafting changes it has made to regulations for its overlay district. The town’s current overlay district only looks at signage and only for a half-mile strip along the Interstate 81 and state Route 42 corridor. The new overlay district would give town officials more approval authority on construction, signs and other aesthetic impact to protect the character of areas, usually those with high visibility.

Town officials say they hope it creates a better partnership between business and the town so organizations know what is expected of them and what they can expect of the town.

One of the major changes expands the overlay district to the entire town for property owners with a minimum of 20 acres or larger, said Lemuel Hancock, urban designer and neighborhood planner for Woodstock. It should not affect the average homeowner, he said.

The expansion encompasses the Shenandoah County fairgrounds. Tom Eshelman, general manager for the fairgrounds, has been meeting with the town and the Planning Commission.

“This allows us to do what we want to do,” Eshelman said.

He said the town understands the fair is growing and adding events.

“They, in my opinion, understand there are some laws on the books that don’t fit the growth that is happening,” Eshelman said.

Some of the Shenandoah County Fair’s biggest issues are signage and the ability to host camping.

A proposed change would allow camping at the fairgrounds as long as it is associated with an event at the fair.

Another change would be to not require the fair to come back to get a permit for each event held in a year.

Any changes to the ordinance will have to go before the ordinance committee. Once the ordinance is complete and out of a draft form town officials and planners will hold a joint public hearing.

Woodstock has been looking at this issue since February, Hancock said.

The town is not the only jurisdiction looking to take control of how communities look.

Shenandoah County officials are also working on an overlay district. There have been some disagreements among county officials, some of whom previously expressed concern that an overlay district would make it harder to entice businesses into the area and thereby have a negative impact on the economy.