Land Use & Community Character
The Land Use and Community Character section of the plan is intended to assist the community with the development of goals and strategies that will guide the future growth of the community in a manner that is compatible with Shepeherdstown’s unique character, respects the environment and builds upon the town’s identity to shape the built environment.
Shepherdstown’s character is derived, in great part, from the physical patterns of development and the architectural vernacular of the buildings that form the historic core of the community. Shepherdstown’s core area exists in stark contrast to the suburban development patterns that have emerged on the fringes of the town. In general, these suburban areas of unincorporated Jefferson County around Shepherdstown have developed with little regard for the historic context of the community that they surround, in terms of architectural style and quality as well as the physical form and pattern of development.
The community recognizes and accepts that growth and change will continue to occur both within and outside of the town limits, and while a number of forces will determine the town’s involvement and influence over how growth occurs on its fringes, the community has expressed a desire for development to occur in a manner that respects the history, identity and soul of Shepherdstown.
Downtown - Heart & Soul
Downtown Shepherdstown is the heart and soul of the community. As a vital part of the economic, cultural, social and historic fabric of the town, the downtown area was consistently cited by residents during the plan development process as being the single most important part of the fabric of the larger community. As such, it deserves special attention from the town through the implementation of strategies that are designed to achieve the goal of retaining its unique character and strengthening its long term viability as the focal point of the community. Of particular concern going forward are its viability as a retail hub in the community, its aesthetic appearance and its ability to attract tourists to the community by offering a unique experience that cannot be found elsewhere.
Shepherdstown is defined not only by the historic architecture that lies at the core of the community, but also by the beauty of the natural landscape that surrounds the Town. This contrast in character between the town and the countryside was once well defined with a clear line between the two. In many areas this definition has been eroded as the community has grown and suburban development has replaced the farm fields and forests that once dominated the rural fringes of the town.
The fragmentation of the rural landscape and the loss of the strong contrast between urban and rural have changed the character of the community by blurring the lines between town and countryside, and thereby reducing the emphasis on the importance of the core of the town as a distinct and unique place. Moving forward, the community desires to preserve those areas where this definition still exists, while also fostering a more balanced approach to development that gives equal weight to growth and the preservation of open space and environmental resources.
Growth Management / Annexation
While the greater Shepherdstown area has grown and developed over the years, the town’s corporate limits have remained virtually unchanged from those that were laid out at its founding. At less than 250 acres in size, the incorporated town encompasses only a small fraction of the larger urbanized area in terms of both population and land area. And while only a small portion of the area’s population is within the town, most residents in the area consider themselves to be residents of “Shepherdstown”.
Many of the institutions associated with the town, including the elementary and middle schools, Morgan’s Grove Park, and a significant portion of Shepherd University lie just outside of the Town’s corporate limits. Going beyond the basic idea of “place” and the potential confusion often associated with the small size of the town in relation to the urbanized area, this has led to a situation in which a very small share of the area’s population are sharing the responsibilities and enjoying the full range of benefits that go along with living in the corporate limits of Shepherdstown.
In essence, two Shepherdstowns have emerged from this situation. One is the incorporated historic core which is governed locally and provided the full range of services that are necessary to maintain a thriving community. The other is the much larger surrounding suburban area which is governed by Jefferson County and provided only limited services, which are much less robust and not commensurate to the needs of the area given the density and intensity of development.
The small size of the tax base and number of customers receiving services within the town also limits its ability to take advantage of the economies of scale that would be realized if services were able to be expanded throughout the greater Shepherdstown area. By growing the size of the community to include those neighborhoods, commercial areas and potential development sites surrounding the town, Shepherdstown would be able to diversify and broaden its tax base, stabilize revenues and provide the same high quality services that are received by current residents and businesses throughout the community. Residents and businesses that are currently outside of the town could then enjoy the benefits of being in Shepherdstown proper, including sharing in the responsibility of governing their community locally.
Ensuring that the town is well equipped to guide and manage development is critical to the future of the community. The current zoning and development ordinances were adopted primarily to preserve and protect the existing conditions of the community, and in many ways have limited applicability to situations that require the management of land use change. Updating the town’s development related ordinances to better reflect the needs of the community will provide it with the tools that are necessary to manage change within its Growth Management Boundary while also guaranteeing the stability of those parts of the community the Town desires to preserve as they currently exist.
Directing growth toward those areas where sufficient infrastructure is available and town services can be easily extended is critical to ensuring that new development does not negatively impact existing levels of service or cause undue burdens on infrastructure capacity. Tools, such as the Town’s Adequate Public Facilities regulations, help to ensure that the community is not negatively impacted by development. Conversely, this type of regulation can also deter growth when not correctly aligned with realistic metrics with which to measure impacts and capacity. The existence of such regulations in Shepherdstown presents an opportunity to guide development within the Growth Management Boundary toward those areas that can be easily served by existing services and infrastructure while directing growth away from those areas that are lacking in those attributes.
The character of Shepherdstown’s neighborhoods is a key driver of the quality of life for the residents of the Town. Preserving, maintaining and enhancing the quality of the town’s neighborhoods by preventing encroachment from incompatible land uses, improperly scaled development and nonresidential parking were frequently cited throughout the planning process as some of the most important factors that will help to preserve the quality of the town’s neighborhoods. Other issues identified by participants in the plan development process included the appearance and safety of some residences, concerns about the quality of rental housing and concerns about the redevelopment of residential lots with new dwellings that could be out of character with historic architecture of the community.