When Economic Development director Brian Stockton moved to the city of Woodstock in 2007, there were only three or four restaurants within walking distance of City Hall. Now there are 22.

Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, the south Cherokee County city witnessed a rapid growth spurt. This inspired Woodstock to start redeveloping its downtown district into a walkable, livable space that today serves as a beating heart of the community, complete with a variety of eating spots, entertainment options, walking trails, and an array of housing styles.

Woodstock’s transformation was kickstarted in 2002, when the city received a Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) planning grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

We recently talked to Stockton about Woodstock’s impressive redevelopment.

Woodstock’s walkable district allows for living, working, and shopping
Woodstock’s walkable downtown district

Downtown Woodstock has seen lots of changes since the 1990s. What did it look like back then?

Downtown historically has been split by a railroad track that runs alongside Main Street. The main shopping district was just three blocks of older buildings that had been here since the early 1900s. There really wasn’t much else around that.

Then, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the city experienced a suburban-style growth pattern, where new, large neighborhoods started encroaching on the downtown area.

One thing that’s necessary to turn a vision into a reality is to get everyone on board. This design, a walkable downtown area, was such a big change from what the rest of metro Atlanta was doing at that time. How did it come to be for Woodstock?

A private developer assembled a large amount of property for a downtown project, somewhere between 25 and 35 acres. The developer brought the city a plan for a typical suburban development, since that’s what the zoning called for. Woodstock told them that’s not what they were looking for and handed the developer the LCI plan and said, “What we want to see is this.”

Because of their previous experience with other mixed-use developments and their understanding of what we were looking for in that plan, the developer came back with a revised plan that fit the city’s vision.

When it was time to vote at the first reading of the zoning, the city council was evenly split with the Mayor breaking the tie. Approving this type of development was a pretty big ask of the city of Woodstock at that point, based on just it being a completely different proposal from what they’d seen before.

And what they did next was interesting. Between the first and second readings, the city bussed the city council to one of the developer’s other projects that resembled what they wanted to do in Woodstock. And when the council members came back, they had a much better understanding of the city’s LCI vision. And it was passed unanimously at that point.

How do you take on a really large vision like this one without getting overwhelmed?

Long-range planning, to me, is fine, but it really has to be revisited and changed every few years. One of the first projects I worked on was the 2020 comprehensive plan that Woodstock adopted in 2008. You come in four years later and most of it doesn’t apply. It’s outdated because either trends have changed, demographics have changed, or the way people want to live has changed. It really is a moving target.

Woodstock’s railroad along Main Street.
The railroad along Main Street

Woodstock is a suburban community 30 miles out from the city of Atlanta – and creating this dynamic connected downtown was a pretty pioneering move. What do you think it was about Woodstock that made it happen here?

I think you had the perfect storm. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to replicate what happened. The perfect storm, to me, was envisioning the plan, adopting the plan, and having a very willing and able developer come in and set the plan in motion. But it just all sort of came to be in 2004.

Learn more about Woodstock’s redeveloped downtown.

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.