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Some town officials are concerned about the balance of housing for students and families.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
BLACKSBURG — Two large student housing complexes proposed for Prices Fork Road are set to arrive at Blacksburg Town Council together next month.
That was the outcome of a busy Tuesday in which one project ran into town council questions that delayed a planned up-or-down vote on approving it until Oct. 8, and the other project cleared a divided planning commission with a recommendation for council approval — probably at the same Oct. 8 meeting.
Together the two projects — The Retreat, proposed for farmland near the Oak Manor and Hethwood neighborhoods, and University City Center, proposed for the Holiday Inn property near University City Mall — could add about 1,300 bedrooms to the town’s rental stock.
The need for more apartments was questioned closely at both the town council and planning commission meetings Tuesday, with some officials noting that Virginia Tech has said its undergraduate enrollment will grow only slightly over the next five or so years.
“We really don’t need more luxury student housing,” planning commission Chairwoman Gregg Moneyhun said.
Still, Moneyhun — who voted to recommend approving The Retreat after lengthy public hearings — and others said that the projects might help Blacksburg’s housing market in two ways. First, the new units might appeal to non student residents. Second, they might attract students who now rent in single-family home neighborhoods like Bennett Hill, areas that for decades have seen friction between student renters and a dwindling number of owner-occupants.
“Is there going to be some blight caused?” Moneyhun said before planners voted. “ Maybe, or maybe we would have more low-income, lower-income and affordable housing become available to families. It’s possible. Maybe we’d have more redevelopment.”
University City Center is a plan to tear down the Latitudes lounge next to the Holiday Inn. Developer CIBHM of Haymarket would construct a 459-bedroom apartment building and parking deck that would enclose two courtyards, one with a pool, beside the hotel.
At a town council work session, council members said they would delay a public hearing and vote planned for next week on the project because of concerns that included a new statement of opposition from neighboring Mountain Empire Services of the Southwest and the New River Valley Community Services Board.
“This is a game-changer,” Councilwoman Cecile Newcomb said.
Holding off on a vote until next month will let town staff gather information about easements and agreements that could affect the traffic issues cited by the project’s neighbors, council members said.
The Retreat is an 852-bedroom proposal described as “neo-traditional cottages” by a representative of Athens, Ga.-based developer Landmark Properties. After hours of public hearings Tuesday night, planning commission members voted 5-2 to send the project to the town council with a recommendation for approving a comprehensive plan amendment to allow the development. Planners also voted 5-2 to recommend approving the rezoning needed for the project.
Newcomb, who is also a member of the planning commission and attended both of Tuesday’s meetings, voted against recommending approval, as did planning commission member Don Langrehr.
Mayor Ron Rordam said the simultaneous arrival of the two projects on Oct. 8 should not affect the council’s final decision on them.
“Council will judge each individual project based on land-use considerations,” Rordam wrote in an email Tuesday night. “They are two separate decisions.”
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