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Brian Lang unveils his plan to energize the Hollins community, attract new business to the area, and lure more travelers off Interstate 81.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
To win the confidence of Hollins voters, a Roanoke County Democrat is prepared to cater to an odd constituency: neighborhood dogs.
The creation of four new dog parks in that district is just one of the priorities listed in Brian Lang’s plan to energize the Hollins community, attract new business to the area, and lure more travelers off Interstate 81.
The hope: that the effort will distinguish him from his political opponents in a three-way race for a seat on the county board of supervisors.
In a recent interview, Lang unveiled the centerpiece of his latest campaign push, the building of a new Hollins Library, designed to sit at the heart of a “Hollins Village” concept. As imagined by Lang, the concept would incorporate a farmers market, small shops, and more connectivity with Hollins University.
The driving idea behind the proposal aims to bring a greater sense of identity to a magisterial district long defined by its sleepy neighborhoods and scattering of entrepreneurial pockets.
“It’s suburbia, but it doesn’t have a core,” Lang said.
The aspiring politician highlighted parts of his plan during a recent rainy-day tour through the district. Driving his stick-shift Volvo, Lang pointed out abandoned lots he hopes to target as locations for new businesses. He made particular mention of revitalizing a strip of Plantation Road formerly known as “Motorist’s Paradise.”
In creating a district center — where residents and students can shop, study and mingle — Lang would seek to plant the same seed as neighboring districts, where libraries serve as community centers from which business and local cooperation can grow.
It’s an expensive idea that has still gone untested locally. County and town leaders in Vinton hope a new library there — still to be built — will spur economic development .
And in Glenvar, where a library was just finished, it’s still too early to tell how the local economy will be affected.
As the first Hollins candidate to propose a new library, Lang hits a chord that will likely resonate throughout the remainder of the race.
County Republicans remain split about investing in new libraries, but Lang’s Republican opponent, Al Bedrosian, has spent considerable energy voicing opposition to such projects.
“I think it’s like anything that anybody wants,” Bedrosian said. “We’ve got to be mature and responsible about spending the money.”
Bedrosian questioned the wisdom of investing millions of dollars in a new library when, at the same time, Roanoke County officials are grappling with how to pay for expensive storm water management mandates.
He said he is also skeptical about local government attempting to spur business. It’s not the government’s role to try to create areas where business might flourish, he said.
Bedrosian has previously argued that each county department head should cut 2 percent of his or her budgets as a form of saving money.
Neither Bedrosian nor independent candidate Gary Jarrell have released detailed plans for the district. The election is Nov. 13. All three men are seeking to replace longtime Supervisor Richard Flora, who is retiring.
Attempts to reach Jarrell by phone were unsuccessful.
For their part, officials at Hollins University have embraced plans to connect the school with the community. Kerry Edmonds, the school’s vice president of finance and administration, said the university collaborated with the county in 2008 to create a long-term plan for the district. It included street improvements, zoning changes and business corridor enhancements. That vision fell by the wayside, though, when the economy took a dive.
“What we’re really looking for are ways to bring in businesses and vendors that would obviously be things that our students would like,” Edmonds said. “We’re still interested and hopeful that there will be some opportunities and developers will come into the area.”
During the 2008 collaboration, the county surveyed the university’s students. The results of that survey showed students were eager to see more coffee shops and retail stores open within walking distance of campus. Edmonds added that students also desired bike lanes, some form of public transportation and sidewalks.
In addition to the “Hollins Village” concept, Lang has also staked an interest in changing how the county operates its recycling program. Whether it means increasing the number of drop-off locations or offering curbside pickup, Lang said, there are enough recyclers in Hollins and the rest of the county to justify an expansion.
According to his plan, Lang would spearhead the creation of a citizen committee to devise proposals for cost-effective recycling programs.
During the drive through Hollins, Lang pulled into a gravel lot and pointed to a misty Read Mountain, a geological divide that separates the western part of the district from the eastern half. He said the only county-sanctioned entrance to the trails on the mountain sit on the eastern side of the mountain. If elected, he said he would seek to establish a parking lot and trail head on the western side — a move that would connect both sides of the mountain.
In forming his proposal, Lang said he tapped into nearly two decades of living in the Roanoke Valley.
“It’s a wonderful community, and I think it could be enhanced by having a better defined character,” he said. “I think the Hollins District has a good story to tell, it just needs to be told.”
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