County to consider changes to development rules

Changes proposed to Shenandoah County’s zoning regulations could let developers put more homes in certain areas.

But a county official says residents shouldn’t expect to see a sudden boom in building in these limited parts of the locality.

The Board of Supervisors could consider adopting the new regulations as early as its April 24 meeting. The Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors held a joint public hearing April 4. The panels heard from about 10 people who spoke about the proposed changes. The commission then voted in favor of recommending that supervisors approve the new regulations.

Director of Community Development Brian Henshaw downplayed the effect of the proposed changes to the zoning rules and noted that developers would still need to go through the approval process for projects.

“It’s important to keep in mind that this is just a text amendment,” Henshaw said. “There’s a lot of concerns with regards to making sure we have the parameters to do complete neighborhoods, and our subdivision ordinance already requires these things that would make complete neighborhoods.”

Henshaw’s department received a directive to look at minimum lot sizes and, through the research, staff found the county could reduce those numbers.

“Through discovering that, I’d like to tie up the subdivision ordinance and the zoning ordinance together a little bit more closely, but everything that we need is in there,” Henshaw added.

County code allows for higher densities in the R-2 and R-3 zoning districts, Henshaw said. The R-1 districts call for larger lot sizes along with conservation and preservation.

“These are developments that would be in or around towns or within the county’s sanitary districts, and so it lends itself to be in a little bit higher density,” Henshaw said. “Now, with that being said, we’re still very proud of our rural character and everything.”

The commission discussed proposed changes to the zoning ordinance at a Feb. 15 work session in which members reached a consensus to consider lowering the minimum lot sizes for the R-1 and R-2 districts. The commission asked staff members to come back with options for consideration. At a March 1 meeting, the commission entertained recommendations from staff members that generally echoed the standards of the county’s towns and neighboring jurisdictions and best matched the county’s Comprehensive Plan goals.

The commission at the March 1 meeting ultimately agreed to recommend the following changes: set the minimum lot size at 12,000 square feet for R-2 properties and 8,000 square feet for R-3 zoning. The commission also endorsed limitations on frontage and setbacks for properties in the two zoning districts.

Information from the Office of Community Development indicates that the county should consider lowering the minimum standards for several reasons:

• No distinguishable differences exist between R-2 and R-3 districts.

• Changes to minimum lots sizes do not seem to give any reason to immediately expect an influx of unanticipated development.

• The Comprehensive Plan states where higher density development should locate.

• The zoning ordinance would not allow higher density development on parcels that don’t have access to public utilities.

The Stoney Creek Sanitary District includes 1.3 acres zoned R-2 and 134 acres in R-3 with approximately half of the land developed. The Toms Brook-Maurertown Sanitary District includes 328 acres in R-2 and 45 in R-3 with approximately 60 percent developed.

Office staff noted that the recommendation doesn’t deal with all the services needed and the Planning Commission must look into writing language in the ordinance that would lead to the types of housing they would deem appropriate for these areas. It could take staff and committees a year to propose a major re-write of the districts.