An 11.6-acre vacancy in Downtown Blacksburg is one step closer to development, following a pivotal meeting last Tuesday.
The site of the old Blacksburg Middle School has remained unoccupied for nearly a decade. In that time, developers have approached Blacksburg Town Council with proposals for a redevelopment of the site.
Much to the dismay of Montgomery County officials, the Council has remained hesitant to accept any projects too hastily.
The area is zoned by the Town of Blacksburg, but the land is owned by the county, which has been eager to sell the land because of a deficit in its school budget that could be greatly assisted by the sale of the property.
Despite this pressure from the county, the town has refrained from relinquishing zoning rights, holding out for an ideal project.
On Oct. 30, Jim Cowan of Fiddler’s Green Partners of Blacksburg, as well as Michael Fite of the Ohio-based Continental Real Estate Cos., offered a new presentation to the town.
Their vision was to create a community of buildings with different purposes: an office space for the headquarters of advertising agency Modea; the open cloud company Rackspace; a hotel; two restaurants; and an outdoor dining plaza, which would run alongside Main Street. Three two-story parking decks and townhouses are planned for the Clay Street side, with 1,700 total parking spaces.
They also laid out plans for a medical office building to be constructed, along with a two-story fitness center and an apartment complex residing in the middle of the area. A four-acre public park, dubbed "The Dell," was also intended to buffer neighboring residential areas from the activity in the development. The developers were ready to spend as much as $85 million on the venture.
The proposal caught flak from town council members who wanted more low-income housing for senior citizens and believed the planned development was inappropriately geared toward student residents.
Some members also expressed disapproval with the site’s parking plan, and said the development didn’t fit with the surrounding neighborhoods.
In the joint meeting held last Tuesday between Blacksburg’s Town Council and its planning commission, members were able to discuss these criticisms directly with the two original developers, as well as Frank Kass, another representative of Continental Real Estate Cos.
According to Mayor Ron Rordam, the meeting was able to address some of the concerns, though not all members of the Council were satisfied with the changes being made.
“I think the developers were able to take back concrete concepts of what was causing concern,” Rordam said.
Under the revised plan, the development will still include the hotel, though it was downsized, as well as the fitness center, residential buildings, and restaurant. The office spaces will remain untouched.
Within the new plan, developers would eliminate roughly 200 parking spaces and rethink parking structures so less pavement is used. They would also relocate the decks away from Clay Street.
“The amount of coverage with surface parking and the deck parking caused a little bit of concern,” Rordam said. “Some would like to see those garages at least on the Miller Street side, with the big one wrapped, so it’s not just a garage sitting there.”
A bike path would also be added to the community, along with townhouses on Clay Street for workers at the site.
Despite this, there was still discontent with the perceived aim of the residential units.
“I think a lot of the members there yesterday, and some of the citizens, thought it (still) looked like student housing,” Rordam said.
The developers have stated the price for the property, at $5.6 million, couldn’t support the addition of single-family homes. They also said their research gave no significant support for the notion that senior citizens would be seeking special housing in the area.
Council members disagreed and showed senior housing was a priority.
“It’s very important for the site that it would be a demographic mix of lots of different ages and occupations, so how do you control that?” Rordam said. “One of the other items we talked about was that the master plan called for more senior housing, or at least one block of affordable senior housing.”
Fite responded that senior citizens still had the ability to move into the housing, and more efforts could be taken to ensure that not all spaces are taken up by students, such as prohibiting parents from co-signing for leases.
Fite said other requests, such as the need for retail space, were not realistic for the profitability of the community.
While the developers will continue trying to reach and agree with council members, they still have plans to apply for re-zoning on Dec. 1.
Mayor Rordam is still undecided on the development.
“There are some things I like, and things I don’t,” Rordam said. “It’s a process in motion.”