With a 7-0 vote, the Blacksburg Town Council unanimously turned down what would have been the largest student housing facility in Blacksburg on Tuesday evening.
The proposed University City Center housing complex is a five-story, 495-bedroom facility located at 900 Prices Fork Road, the current location of the Holiday Inn and Latitudes lounge. The design would be mixed use with potential for commercial real estate on the first level, and would include a five-story parking garage that would include 672 parking spaces for residents and future customers.
The spot, located within a quarter-mile of campus, would be one of the closest options available for students to bike and walk to campus, which was a point of celebration and contention among members of the community at the meeting who were concerned about pedestrian traffic.
John Neel of Gay and Neel Inc., an engineering, landscape architecture and surveying firm, presented the designs for the proposed building, saying, “This is the right place for student housing.”
The design of the building included a “synthetic” Hokie stone facade, neutral earth tones and no exterior facing balconies. The 5-story building will include interior, courtyard facing balconies that will overlook a built-in pool.
Several economically friendly amenities were proposed, such as recycling stations and charging stations for electric vehicles within the parking garages, with the building itself being built with sustainable products.
Part of the plan would involve completely tearing down and rebuilding the hotel, which would leave the staff unemployed for anywhere from 16-18 months. Ken Rogers, the general manager of the Holiday Inn, spoke up in favor of the development despite impending unemployment.
“I’m putting a personal hardship on myself, my family and my staff,” Ken said. “But I strongly believe that this needs to happen.”
“It’s turned into all this bickering and fighting, and (the developers) are really trying to do a good thing underneath,” Rogers said.
Public comment on the issue was somewhat split — out of the 34 that spoke, 21 were against the development. Of those opposing the development, many cited the “mammoth” structure being an intrusion that could potentially “rob Blacksburg of its small town character.”
Only one student publicly spoke up at the meeting. Zachary Barnes, a biology major who grew up in Blacksburg, said he still lives at home due to the limited options available for student housing.
“I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve had trouble finding housing as a student,” Barnes said. “If you look at the location of this, this is where this needs to be. This is as close as you can get to campus without being in a neighborhood.”
Despite the project being “at the right place at the right time,” the details and sheer density of the project led to its demise. The meeting on Tuesday was just for the residential aspect of the lot, but several members were disappointed with the plan of the project, and wouldn’t be sold on it unless the commercial aspect of the planning was also discussed.
“I’m opposed to the loss of over 3 acres of general commercial space on our main section of Prices Fork Road,” said councilwoman Susan Anderson. “I wish this package was total, but that’s not what we have before us tonight.”
All of the members decided that the location needed to be developed, but a comprehensive design and plan was harder to agree on.
“This is not a bad site for redevelopment… I would encourage the applicants to rethink the project and consider submitting a request that addresses some of the issues that have been raised tonight,” said Councilman Michael Sutphin.
Developers have the option to go back to the drawing board and create a proposal that would include a much smaller residential portion of around 300 bedrooms — down almost 200 spots from the initial proposal.
Neel admitted the opposition from the town came as a shock for him, saying “It was a no brainer, but not as much of a no brainer as I thought.”
“I still believe this is the right place for this project,” he said.