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Fiddler's Green Partners envisions a development that includes offices, townhouses, a park and other open space.
Monday, March 25, 2013
CHRISTIANSBURG — The unveiling of a long-awaited development proposal for the old Blacksburg Middle School site Monday night finished with an admission that nothing formal has been filed with the Blacksburg Town Council, which must decide whether to let the plan proceed.
That should change today, said attorney James Cowan, who represented the Fiddler’s Green Partners development group at the first public presentation of new plans for Midtown Village, a commercial and residential complex proposed for the 20-acre site on Blacksburg’s South Main Street. Speaking to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, Cowan said the proposal was “a true mixed-use development that embraces the master plan” that the county and town of Blacksburg jointly developed for the site.
The former school property is mostly owned by the county, and supervisors hope a multimillion-dollar sale will help the county budget.
Supervisors are meeting tonight for a public hearing on an annual spending plan that includes increases in the county real estate and personal property taxes.
Because the school site is in Blacksburg, its zoning is controlled by the town council, which considers its development to be key to the health of downtown. The two governing bodies, along with Montgomery County’s school board, have at times clashed over what to do with the land.
Cowan acknowledged the development effort’s tumultuous history but said, “Even if the way is bumpy and not smooth, maybe it’s necessary to get to a better place.”
Cowan told supervisors that a rezoning application and development plan were turned in Monday for review by the town council. But questioned by County Administrator Craig Meadows, Cowan said that while developers met with town officials Monday, a finished rezoning application and proposal had not been submitted. That should happen today , Cowan said.
Cowan said Fiddler’s Green Partners are putting up a website that will let the public view plans for Midtown Village. Slides he showed to supervisors, and a 64-page proposal document that the county made public earlier Monday, depicted a blend of offices and commercial space, town houses and apartments, and a park and other open space. The proposal included a caveat that building sizes and uses and other specifics might shift depending on market forces and the actual needs of the new development’s tenants. It said that developers envision a five- to 10-year build-out for the project.
“I like the plan. … Now is the best time to move forward,” Supervisor Mary Biggs said.
The redevelopment of the former school site has been discussed since the old Blacksburg Middle School was replaced a decade ago with a new school on the west side of the town . Supervisors first had to persuade the school board to declare the property surplus and hand it over to the board of supervisors, with the understanding that money from its sale would help pay for school capital improvements.
That occurred in 2010. Supervisor Bill Brown said that since then, “ citizens have been constantly asking supervisors, when are you going to surplus that school and sell it to help the schools?”
Brown said he had worn out two chairs during meetings about the old middle school site, and thought Fiddler’s Green Partners have “bent over backwards” trying to meet requests from the town.
The town and county crafted a master plan that called for a mixed-use development that specifically would not include housing intended for students. Cowan said the apartments and town houses now proposed include six housing types, more than is usual in student-oriented developments, and will have none of the four-bedroom units that are often built for students.
The property is now zoned R-4 residential, which allows single-family homes on lots of at least a quarter-acre. Its assessed value is about $1.2 million.
Supervisors in 2011 signed a sale contract with Fiddler’s Green Partners that would pay the county about $5.1 million after the town rezones the property. Jeanne Stosser, Fiddler’s Green’s managing partner, said last week that the price would likely be renegotiated when developers have a better idea of what is economically feasible.
The proposal that Cowan presented included buildings labeled for a hotel and restaurant, fitness center and parking deck, among other uses. He said the developer would donate about 40 percent of the site to the town for parks, plus a bit more will be deeded for public use.
The public space included a central lawn designated the Village Green that Cowan said could be used for events. “We’re really excited … about framing a community around that,” he said.
Blacksburg officials have worried that the proposal would not be detailed enough, but Cowan said developers are ready to make changes in response to town suggestions.
“It’s really nice to have a nice drawing and a plan, but we need to execute on that,” he said.
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