The Woodstock Town Council approved a first reading of a proposed tourism zone ordinance, a resolution to recognize April as Autism Awareness Month and an Arbor Day proclamation during Tuesday night’s meeting.

The proposed tourism zone ordinance would allow the town’s Economic Development Authority to provide incentives to new or existing businesses, Town Manager Angela Clem said. The article, presented at the meeting by Deputy Town Manager Aaron Grisdale, states that its purpose is to promote the “continued development and success of the town and to increase awareness and support for tourism in the town” through those incentives.

The article also states that the town “believes that the establishment of a tourism zone will improve the business and economic conditions of the town which will, in turn, benefit the welfare of the citizens of the town.”

A schedule of the incentives for businesses located within the proposed tourism zone includes the reduced cost for new water/sewer connection, the waiving of fees for any site plan or zoning permit fees, a grant at the rate of 50% of the design costs (up to a maximum of $1,000) to assist the new or existing business with design requirements necessary to secure building code approval with the county and priority consideration for a sidewalk partnership program with the town.

The council will vote on a second reading and adoption of the proposed tourism zone ordinance at its May meeting, according to Clem.

“This is really exciting for our existing businesses as well as tourism businesses that would like to locate in Woodstock,” Clem stated in an email Wednesday.

Woodstock will continue to recognize April as Autism Awareness Month, as the council approved Mayor Jeremy McCleary’s resolution that urges members of the community to become more aware of individuals with a disability and the “value that they bring to our community.”

Heather Jones, who spoke on behalf of the Shenandoah County Special Education Advisory Committee, said during the meeting that autism “affects our community in so many ways” and noted that many special education students within the county’s school system continue to work in the local communities after graduation.

Jones, who said she has a 12-year-old daughter with autism, pointed out that one in 54 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum nationally, a rate increase from the one in 59 children diagnosed last year.

“For me it’s personal, but to be able to work with families, making sure that our community supports these individuals, making sure that they have the resources available to them, is of huge importance as a community,” Jones said during the meeting, which some officials attended virtually.

The council also voted to approve McCleary’s proclamation to celebrate Arbor Day on April 24. The proclamation, which laid out the benefits trees provide to the local community, stated that the town is committed to “keeping the woods in Woodstock” by “caring for its trees, increasing its tree canopy cover throughout the Town, and encouraging our citizens to help do the same.”

Additionally on Tuesday, Clem stated in her report that town officials are working on an “alternate budget” amid the financial impacts of COVID-19. McCleary noted that town administrators will “have some difficult decisions moving forward on our budget.”

A finance committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today to discuss the budget for the 2021 fiscal year. Clem stated in an email that the meeting is an initial budget work session that will “cover the reductions in our projections and expenditures.” The meeting, in accordance with Gov. Ralph Northam’s limitations on public gatherings, will limit public attendance to 10 individuals. The meeting will be available online to the public via a link located at www.townofwoodstockva.gov.

During his report on Tuesday, McCleary called the impact that COVID-19 has had on the health and welfare of individuals and the financial burden it’s placed on businesses a “sad, sad state of affairs.” He encouraged residents to get out and support local businesses if they can do so safely.

“I think we’ll come out stronger as a community for helping our local businesses,” McCleary said.

Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com