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The town council said developers must address neighbors’ concerns about the huge building.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
BLACKSBURG — A plan to create Blacksburg’s largest apartment building died Tuesday after town council members said they wanted to like the proposal, but just couldn’t.
“I can see why you thought it was a no-brainer — it’s right across from campus,” Councilwoman Cecile Newcomb told developers Kirk Johnson and Shivon Dosky of Haymarket-based CIBHM. “But the devil is in the details.”
Several council members said they had asked Johnson and Dosky repeatedly to withdraw their proposal — as recently as an hour before Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Krisha Chachra said — and resubmit it after better addressing neighbors’ concerns.
“I believe we’re close. … I do think we can get there,” Chachra said, urging developers to return to the council with a redesigned concept.
Vice Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith described CIBHM as “people who refuse to take yes as an answer” for choosing to press ahead after being told that a modified plan that better satisfied neighbors, and had more specifics about commercial development announced for an adjacent piece of the company’s property, would probably win support.
The town council then voted 7-0 to deny the rezoning needed for University City Center, a planned five-story, 495-bedroom structure with an attached 672-space parking deck. Intended to be marketed to Virginia Tech students and located at the corner of University City Boulevard and Prices Fork Road, the development would have been the town’s densest housing.
The council’s vote followed a public hearing in which 21 of 34 speakers found fault with the project. Most were residents of the neighborhoods east of the project, and said a huge apartment building was too jarring a change from the single-family homes it would sit near.
“How does a massive student dorm with a synthetic stone wall and a postage-stamp sized courtyard … create a small-town feel?” asked Sara Thompson.
David Reusch added, “The density of this project is far too large.”
Other opponents expressed worries about traffic. Representatives of the New River Community Services Board and associated Mountain Empire Services, which together share a parking lot access with CIBHM’s property, said they did not think it was safe for more vehicles to travel there.
But supporters of the project said the site was the perfect spot to add student housing to a growing town.
“The best place for students is as close to where they need to get as possible,” said Dave Smith, who lives on Woodland Drive, near the proposed structure. “You can’t get much closer. … I’d rather see 400 students walking to class rather than driving.”
CIBHM owns the Holiday Inn located on the development site and planned to build the new structure next to it after razing the Latitudes restaurant and lounge. Johnson said recently that the company planned to later convert the hotel into two smaller hotels and open up renovated commercial space in the building.
Council members said repeatedly that they wished some of that development was included in the proposal before them. Developers had requested and been granted a one-month delay in the vote on the rezoning to provide more details, but offered them outside their formal submission to the town.
Mayor Ron Rordam said something more binding was needed. “In the past, we have voted on pretty pictures and sometimes pretty pictures don’t come true,” he said.
Chachra called the months of University City Center planning and review a missed opportunity. The developer may come back with a proposal that is allowed under the present general commercial zoning — about 300 bedrooms would be permitted — and town officials would have much less say in the final result, she warned.
Developers and council members agreed that some sort of development is certain.
“This Holiday Inn site is stuck in the ’80s,” Chachra said. “And we all remember what we looked like in the ’80s.”
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