The seven-member Blacksburg Town Council will not have to argue the merits of smart growth, as all the members have advocated for or practiced aspects of the local governing strategy.
By its broadest definition, smart growth consists of concentrating development near the center of a town to avoid sprawl. The strategy tends to encourage mixed-use land development near established transportation infrastructure, as well as the conservation of green space.
Mixed-use development typically involves a combination of residential and commercial space.
The council will be tasked with expanding business opportunities in a down economy.
Many retail tenants may be hesitant to consider Blacksburg since the Virginia Supreme Court decision in March that ruled Fairmount Properties, the developer of First & Main, could not build a big-box store without applying for a special-use permit.
Mayor Ron Rordam, who won an unopposed bid for reelection on Election Day, said smart growth does not work against larger developments such as First & Main.
“I think there is plenty of middle ground,” Rordam said. “I think First & Main, South Main Street, University Mall and downtown Blacksburg ... don’t compete. If something goes on at First & Main, it’s not going to take away from downtown.”
Instead, Rordam envisions bringing the areas together into a continuous downtown area.
“I think they all complement each other,” Rordam said, “but we need to find a way to tie them all together.”
He said First & Main is a key development for the town’s future.
“I think it is vital to the town that First & Main be successful,” Rordam said. “I think we need to start working in tandem now to see how we make them successful. The last thing you want is a vacant shopping center as you come into town.”
Karen Hult is a political science professor at Virginia Tech and a local government scholar. According to Hult, the First & Main area’s potential is currently limited because of its isolation.
“I think what would really benefit First & Main is to develop better links with the rest of downtown,” Hult said.
The Nov. 3 elections saw incumbent councilwoman Susan Anderson reelected, with Cecile Newcomb, Krisha Chachra and John Bush also grabbing seats on a council already consisting of Vice Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith and council member Don Langrehr.
Rordam completes the future council, which will take office in January and seems likely to continue the incumbent administration’s growth policies.
Only Chachra has shown support for any sort of large format development at First & Main. During the campaign, Chachra said she would push for a movie theater to anchor the center of the area.
Hult says the town needs to begin filling the downtown area.
“The downtown area looks as though it’s dying to the outside eye,” Hult said. “(There are) lots of vacant storefronts and lots of arguments about what goes into those vacant storefronts.”
Opportunities appear to be on the horizon for the council to fill some town locations with smart growth projects, however. The town’s most notable infill site, or a vacant site inside the range of town development, may soon be in the council’s hands.
The town could soon acquire ownership rights to the old Blacksburg Middle School property, which is currently held by Montgomery County Public Schools. School board officials could discuss the transfer at tonight’s meeting.
Bush, who advocated for a mixed-use development on the property during the campaign, said green space should be a major consideration because of the property’s scenic location.
“I’d like to see as much of that saved as possible, having it be a part of the town and maybe the county’s recreation and parks system,” Bush said.
He also said the large site could be divided up into portions for commercial development and mixed-use housing.
“I think it is important that what we do there meets the needs of the town but doesn’t infringe on established neighborhoods,” Bush said.