Woodstock’s Planning & Zoning Commission was not able to hold its monthly meeting this month. The Commission will continue its work on the important issue of economic development and business regulations, items that were on the agenda for the March meeting. The next regular Commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 20th, at 7:30 PM in the lower level of Woodstock Town Hall.
The Commission has been focused on ways to promote appropriate economic development in tune with the needs, character, municipal infrastructure, and resources of Woodstock. The way this is done is through series of planning sessions, whereby the Commission researches, discusses, floats ideas, asks questions, and learns from others. The Commission reaches out to stakeholders and members of the public, in an inclusive manner. Once consensus is reached on various topics, the Commission settles to the task of updating, removing, or creating zoning regulations. Sometimes it does all three of these types of changes.
Zoning regulations are the hands-on tools used everyday by town government to promote land development and land uses that uphold community-wide, public health, safety, and welfare, while at the same time upholding individual property owners’ rights. Woodstock’s zoning regulations are town laws. This gives Woodstock’s Planning & Zoning Commission a lot of authority. With such authority comes serious responsibility. It is this responsibility of which the Commission remains most mindful and uses the rule of commonsense when making decisions.
Years of work went into the update of the zoning regulations enacted in 2015. Likewise, similar work went into the update of the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) enacted in 2015. Although the regulations and the POCD encompass many things, one important aspect has been the concerns of our town’s business community. In fact, over the years, efforts have been made to include the business community in work being done. This stems from the Commission’s continued efforts to include everyone in on the Commission’s work, such as landowners, farmers, and the general public. The commission has learned a lot and as a result, has been able to do well its work on behalf of everyone in our community.
During this past year, as the Woodstock Business Association renewed itself, I am proud to have Woodstock’s Planning & Zoning Commission and the Association liaison with each other. For purposes of disclosure, I am a member of the Association and the Chamber of Commerce. We have been working together to find common solutions to common issues. This approach works. For example, when the Commission learned that some businesses had window signs, something not allowed by the regulations, the Commission put on a hold enforcement of this part of the regulations and set out to find a solution. The work is currently active on the Commission’s agenda, and the Commission is already reviewing and taking into good account the concerns and ideas of the business community.
Other work the Commission is doing on behalf of the business community is to find ways to streamline the process of getting permits, and the expense of such permits, while maintaining the important governmental review of proposed land uses (to uphold public safety, health, and welfare for everyone). The Commission several years ago updated the land use fees charged to people seeking permits. This fee schedule had not otherwise been updated in over 15 years, and was woefully out of date. The town recoups the legitimate costs of the work it does and does not over-charge applicants. The Commission does not have control on what the state charges, but there are ways to legally avoid extra state fees by being creative with how the town documents its land use review work. Here are two recent examples.
First, if someone gets approval for a permit to start a business, move a business to a new location, or to expand a business, then why charge separately for a sign permit if a sign permit is being asked for at the same time a business permit is being submitted? The Commission has bundled it all together, streamlining the process and saving people money.
Second, if someone gets approval to build a new business or construct a business expansion, then why charge later a separate fee for a construction permit? The Commission is looking to bundle things to save time and money for people.
Currently, the Commission reviews and decides upon simple, business zoning permits. Although these types of permit reviews do not take a lot of time, applicants nevertheless have to take time to come to a Commission meeting. An idea the Commission can look into is to change the zoning regulations so that the Town’s Zoning Enforcement Officer can handle these types of simple permits. If a permit application meets the requirements and standards of the regulations, then the ZEO can approve the permit. This is how other simple permits, such as for house decks, pools, and sheds, are handled now. This will facilitate things for our business community, while not lessening the Commission’s oversight of the regulations. Each month, the Commission receives a report of permits issued by Town Hall, and reviews through it.
When the Woodstock Economic Development Commission (EDC) was up and running, Woodstock’s Planning & Zoning Commission worked with it. It is exciting to see efforts to revive the EDC, and the Commission looks forward to working with the EDC.
The Commission’s outreach to the business community follows a similar way of outreach to other parts of our community, such as the agricultural community. The good working relationship Woodstock’s Planning & Zoning Commission has with the Agricultural Commission is being replicated with the Woodstock Business Association.
For sake of brevity, I have not been able in this letter to you to touch upon many other things the Commission is doing. Nevertheless, Woodstock’s Planning & Zoning Commission continues to work for you and for our wonderful Woodstock community. Common sense, common purpose, and a strong belief that government works for people, all drive the ethic of the Commission. We work together in a non-partisan manner – as we should.
All meetings are open to the public. If you attend a meeting, there are ample opportunities during the meeting to speak with the Commission. If you cannot attend a meeting, then contact the Commission, or me as Commission Chair, through Town Hall. We are happy to hear from you. On behalf of my fellow Commissioners and me, thank you for the opportunity to work for and with you.