Planners delay action on housing density change

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County planners put the brakes Thursday on a push to increase housing density in certain areas after hearing concerns from residents.

The Planning Commission voted to table action on a proposal to change the minimum lot sizes in medium- and high-density, residential zoning districts. The commission agreed to resume its discussion about the proposal at its meeting in February after county staff do more research on the matter. Commissioner Hilda C. Vann did not attend the meeting.

The commission held a public hearing jointly with members of the Board of Supervisors on the proposal to decrease the minimum lot size for land zoned medium-residential from 20,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet and to reduce the minimum lot size for parcels in the high-density residential zoning district to 7,500 square feet. The former proposal prompted the addition of the latter.

Planning and Zoning Director Brian Henshaw provided background on the proposal before the commission held the required public hearing on the potential change. The commission heard from several residents who raised concerns about proposed changes in density. Speakers urged commissioners to delay action on the proposal that started out as a request from a local developer.

Sandy Hook Road resident John Adamson said the proposal appears, at least on the surface, to fall in line with the vision of the county’s comprehensive plan that much development should occur near the towns. However, Adamson said the proposal called for a significant change in density and questioned whether or not this would align with the character of those towns. Adamson suggested the commission ask the planners in each town if they favor the proposed changes.

Vito Gentile, of Senedo Road, pointed out the residential zoning districts in question and their proximity to public water and sewer services. The Toms Brook-Maurertown Sanitary District along the U.S. 11 corridor might handle an increase in housing density in the zoning area it serves, Gentile said. The residential zoning district in question also lies near Woodstock and is already served by public safety agencies. Another area of residential lots lies near Basye and is served by the Stoney Creek Sanitary District but lacks some of the public safety resources available in other parts of the county, Gentile said. The county needs to consider the availability of public safety services in the residential zones before changing the density, Gentile added.

Maurertown resident Kim Woodwell said she doesn’t necessarily oppose building homes on smaller lots but wants the commission and other county officials to conduct a more thorough study of the proposed changes before taking action. Woodwell urged the commission to consider the long-term effects the changes could have on the county.

Seth Coffman, of Quicksburg, asked the commission, even if members typically do not respond to questions at public hearings, whether the Citizens Advisory Committee had reviewed the proposed changes. Coffman also asked if the county officials had provided data comparing zoning with other localities and the towns. Coffman said he has no problem with doubling the density around towns and in sanitary districts. However, wanted to know whether the commission sought input from sanitary district officials or from the towns regarding the ability to provide water and sewer service to more houses.

Tim French, of Woodstock, said he didn’t buy the argument that increasing density would save land from development. French noted that it costs the county more to provide services to residential property than to agricultural land. Many of the lots in question lie near already overcrowded schools, French added.

Later in the meeting, the commissioners voted to table the proposal at least until the panel’s next meeting in February. District 3 Supervisor Rich Walker pointed out that his board and the commission have yet to receive information on town zoning regulations in relation to the proposal. Walker, who serves as vice chairman on the Board of Supervisors, said it was appropriate to delay action on the proposed changes.