At a recent meeting, the Woodstock City Council held an initial reading on amending city code to include a section on commercial open space uses.

“The goal of this ordinance change is to provide an option for commercial open space. This consideration is in response to consumer behavior change related to the pandemic, desirability of businesses to create more meaningful outdoor spaces and experiences for their customers, and those outdoor experiences and spaces could often require accessory buildings,” Senior City Planner Katie O’Connor said.

According to O’Connor, since the pandemic began, the city has received a handful of requests from businesses allowing for such things as an outdoor patio to be enclosed and allowing for a business to add a shipping container to its backyard space. Because the city does not have a method in place for approval of these requests, city staff began working on a change to the city’s land development ordinance that would cover requests of this type, as well as a change to the definition of commercial private open space in city code.

Under the new definition O’Connor presented, commercial private open space would be defined as “open space that is privately owned or leased space used for the purposes of a business or a directly adjacent business and is open to the public during business hours. A commercial open space may include a lawn, garden or patio and may be restricted when the business or the adjacent business is closed.”

In order to meet the city’s requirement for commercial open space, O’Connor said space defined as commercial private open space may be counted, so long as it is used to provide seating or service to its customers without extending to a public sidewalk or public open space. Accessory structures may also be placed within these types of spaces with approval from the Director of Community Development, she said. At the same time, accessory structures would be required to have a purpose to serve customers.

The final points brought up during the meeting involved how accessory structures would fall into the city sign law for commercial businesses. Instead of allowing them to have three large signs on their façade like the main commercial building, the suggestion was to allow one sign on each accessory structure, as well as one additional sign measuring six square feet to be used as a menu board if the structure’s use was food and/or beverage related. It was also suggested that neither sign be allowed to be electronic.

After O’Connor concluded her presentation, she fielded a few questions from members of the council, while others on the council shared their thoughts.

“Do you know if these structures are required to have hurricane clips?,” Councilman David Potts asked. O’Connor replied she did not, but more information on that should be available during a future council meeting.

“I think the thing that makes these things look cool and unique and different is the modification to the shipping container,” Councilman Colin Ake said, explaining he felt it was important for there to be some sort of modification to these structures from their previous use, although he admitted it might not be easy to determine how to best quantify the amount of modification needed.

“Do you think it’s important enough for them to have to come and show it to you at council before it’s approved?,” O’Connor asked in response, with some on the council believing that to be a good idea overall. City Attorney Eldon Basham added that, even if this was the path the city decided to take, there would still need to be some set of criteria and standards in place.

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