The Blacksburg Town Gown met Thursday, Oct. 17, in Ambler Johnston Hall to discuss infrastructure concerns among Virginia Tech students, faculty, Blacksburg residents and others involved with the area.
A panel consisting of Chris Lawrence, deputy town manager; Liza Morris, assistant vice president for planning and university architect; Catherine Potter, associate vice president and legal counsel for the Virginia Tech Foundation; and Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for student affairs at Virginia Tech led the group discussion.
Lawrence, Morris and Potter all raised their main concerns relating to infrastructure. Forum attendees then raised questions and stated opinions throughout the rest of the meeting. Issues discussed related to traffic gridlock, preserving “green space,” fast rates of population growth and its management, maintaining a small-town feel, and upcoming construction.
Panelists brought up various projects underway in Blacksburg related to infrastructure. Morris mentioned the upcoming multi-modal transit facility (MMTF), and Potter voiced ideas for the new building at the Prices Fork Road location that used to house Buffalo Wild Wings.
“There’s going to be a new development there –– a five-story building, which of course is going to be very different for Blacksburg,” Potter said. “It’s going to have a rooftop events space, so people can go up there, have fun –– you know, retirement dinners, wedding showers as well as a restaurant.”
Additionally, panelists pointed attendees to the Virginia Tech campus master plan to address many infrastructure-related issues.
Lawrence addressed housing issues as well. One audience member argued that students drive the housing market, which makes it difficult to provide housing for young professionals and families.
“The advantage to a housing partnership –– or in some there’s also a housing trust fund –– is you’re able to protect, in the long run, that house to stay in the market for non-students,” Lawrence said. “That’s something we continue to work on, and hopefully, within the next year or so, we’ll have some product to deliver.”
Furthermore, Lawrence said residents of Blacksburg will need to look for alternative forms of transportation, such as Blacksburg Transit, as Main Street will not be widened.
When asked about the crowding and growth of the student population in Blacksburg, Morris said that Virginia Tech aims to house 40% of undergraduate students on campus.
“Our target is 40% of undergraduate housing on campus,” Morris said. “We are working diligently toward that –– funding projects, finding them, constructing them right now. That’s part of that –– all the stuff that we’ve been working on for the next 10 years is moving us very, very close to that 40% target mark that we want to have on campus.”
The meeting began with each attendee introducing themselves, stating who they were and why they were at the forum. According to Shushok, this was to enhance group discussion and familiarize attendees with one another.
Students in the Student Life Council, faculty in various Virginia Tech departments such as student conduct, young professionals residing in the Blacksburg area, architects, real estate agents and others attended the meeting.
“I enjoy Town Gown because, as a student, you’re often unaware about what goes on in Blacksburg since your focus is usually on Virginia Tech,” said Peyton Wilmer, a junior majoring in political science. “Town Gown helps me become more informed and more conscious as a member of the Blacksburg community, and it helps Blacksburg by allowing students and town residents to share their thoughts and concerns to make Blacksburg better.”