County to consider change in housing density

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County could soon let developers build more houses on smaller lots in residential areas.

The Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors hold a public hearing Thursday on a proposal to change the minimum lot sizes in the R-2 and R-3 residential zoning districts. The commission may consider making a recommendation to the board at the meeting.

The proposed change, if adopted by the board, likely would not spur growth in areas other than those near the county’s six towns or its sanitary districts, Planning Director Bryan Henshaw said Monday. The comprehensive plan already steers development to those parts of the county, Henshaw noted. The proposed changes could affect lots in the areas of Basye and Maurertown, served by either of the county’s two sanitary districts.

The proposal comes before the commission only a few months after a developer and landowner asked county officials to consider a similar change to the zoning regulations.  Area property owner Doug Boyd initiated a text amendment in September to change the minimum lot size in the R-2 residential zoning district from 20,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet. County Attorney Jason Ham advised the Planning Department that the R-2 district cannot legally require a smaller, minimum lot size than the higher-density R-3 district. Boyd withdrew his request. The commission discussed the matter in October and scheduled the public hearing.

The draft of the proposed ordinance calls for changing the minimum lot size in the R-2 district from 20,000 to 10,000 square feet and to 7,500 square feet in the R-3 district. The proposal complies with legal requirements and better suits the intent of the zoning ordinance that calls for a higher density in the R-3 district than in the R-2 district. The proposed ordinance also would reduce the lot frontage in the R-3 district to 75 feet to better fit with the lowered lot size.

Information provided to the Planning Commission states that the proposal aligns with the goals of the comprehensive plan. The ordinance would only allow higher densities where the comprehensive plan already identifies areas designated for higher-density, residential development. The plan calls for residential development to occur in close proximity to towns and sanitary districts. The county subdivision ordinance requires that all newly created lots in the R-2 and R-3 districts have sanitary sewer service, according to information provided to the commission.