MG BWW Project 062519

A Virginia Tech Foundation building would be on the site of the former Buffalo Wild Wings near the intersection of Blacksburg’s North Main Street and Prices Fork Road.

BLACKSBURG — The Blacksburg Town Council approved a zoning change Tuesday night that provides developers a way to build structures that exceed the allowed building height downtown.

The zoning change, which passed on a 5-1 vote, allows developers to seek a conditional use permit for structures that would surpass the 60-foot building height limit in the downtown commercial district.

The change was prompted by the Virginia Tech Foundation, which is awaiting a permit for a roughly 236,000-square-foot and five-story building that would go on the existing retail site near the corner of Prices Fork Road and North Main Street.

The site includes the old Buffalo Wild Wings structure, which will be demolished as part of the foundation’s project. Plans also call for the demolition of a building that currently houses a Five Guys restaurant and the Blacksburg Wine Lab.

The zoning change allows developers to seek conditional use permits for buildings that could be up to 100 feet tall.

The foundation still needs the council to approve the permit for its particular project. Town staff said Tuesday that the vote on that permit is expected to occur in November.

Councilman John Bush issued the only opposing vote.

Bush said the town recently received a downtown master plan that outlines the kinds of developments the locality would like to see in different sections of downtown. He said the town hasn’t had a chance to look at which specific developments could go in those areas.

“I think this is a little bit of putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “We just haven’t gotten to that yet.”

Bush also raised concerns about the zoning change opening the door to proposals for 100-foot buildings.

While that could be true, the zoning allows council to discuss such possible projects individually, Councilman Jerry Ford Jr. said.

“This allows future discussions,” Ford said. “It doesn’t say that we’re going to approve 100-foot buildings, but it allows us to have conversations about that.”

Called the “Gilbert Street Mixed Use Project” by the foundation, the building would house retail, educational space and a rooftop restaurant.

The foundation previously asked the town to allow “limited instructional classrooms” as part of the project, but the council removed that language because of difficulties with establishing limits on such uses.

Town officials previously said that they removed the limited classroom use language due to concerns about sudden influxes of student traffic downtown.

The building is still expected to house some academic functions — such as professors using conference rooms to meet with graduate students — but those activities do not require changes to the downtown commercial district, town officials have said.

The Gilbert Street project has also in recent months drawn attention to state-granted privilege that allows Tech-affiliated properties to pay a reduced amount in local real estate taxes.

The Gilbert Street project prompted questions from both the town council and the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, each of which raised concerns about reduced tax payments potentially complicating how they manage the growth driven by the university.

Exactly how much the foundation’s tenants pay in taxes depends on the duration of their leases.

Foundation leases are taxed at 100% — or like any other taxable property in the county — if they are for at least 50 years, according to information previously provided by the county. If the lease is for less than 50 years, the assessment is reduced by 2% for every year less than 50 years.

Leases, however, are taxed at a minimum of 15%.

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Yann Ranaivo covers local government and politics in the New River Valley, including Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Radford and Montgomery County.

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