BLACKSBURG — Members of Blacksburg’s planning commission voiced general enthusiasm Tuesday night about an ambitious redevelopment of the old Blacksburg Middle School site.
However, they told the development team that they’ll need more details about the potentially $150 million-plus mixed use project before even getting close to issuing a recommendation to the town council.
The proposed redevelopment of the approximately 21-acre site has been subjected to some community feedback via one neighborhood meeting last fall and another in May. The developers — long-time developer Jeanne Stosser and real estate attorney Jim Cowan — have also initiated a marketing campaign on the project that included setting up a booth at the town’s annual Summer Solstice Fest.
Tuesday night’s discussion of a plan that calls for, among other things, a hotel, a large office building and numerous high-end residences marked the project’s first official look by a town board, which will ultimately advise the council on whether it should change the site’s zoning to accommodate the development.
The site has drawn particular attention due in significant part to the numerous years it spent in limbo since the school itself closed in 2002. The property is also viewed by both the public and the town as critical to the future of Blacksburg’s downtown.
The development team is asking that the town council approve a rezoning of the property’s rear 11.8 acres to planned residential and its front 9.2 acres to downtown commercial. The rezoning would allow the land to house commercial building and residences that far exceed the currently allowed residential density.
Currently, the land is zoned for single-family homes.
One purpose of the rezoning process is to determine whether such a change fits the designated future use of a particular piece of land and whether the land-use change would adversely impact the immediate surrounding area.
Commission members inquired Tuesday about various facets of the proposal. Among other things, they asked about bicycle access, characteristics of certain key structures, and changes to traffic patterns.
Of particular concern were the specifics on an office building facing South Main Street that is currently being called the “Gateway building.” That building is slated to provide space for a local company and retail and dining functions.
“It would be difficult to vote on this without knowing about what that Gateway building is,” commission member Tim Colley said near the end of the meeting.
Planning Commission Chairman Don Langrehr echoed Colley’s point.
“We still do not have an idea of that office building on South Main, and also the public safety complex,” Langrehr said.
Langrehr, a former councilman, was referring to plans to relocate the Blacksburg police station to the old middle school site and incorporate that structure into the project.
The station is contingent on so-called performance agreements between the town and the developer.
The agreements would designate parts of the project that the town would agree to at least help pay for.
The police station is among those items, but the town is also being asked to fund the construction of various public spaces on the site including a courtyard at the corner of Eheart Street and South Main and a public park near the center of the development.
While the agreements themselves are a separate matter from the rezoning, Langrehr said, striking them would give the commission a better idea about the public safety complex, which is being proposed to be attached to a parking garage.
Langrehr said he also has concerns about the costs for a public park, which he said could end up in the millions of dollars.
“It would be fine for the town to maintain it,” he said. “I’m just concerned about the upfront costs of developing it.”
Cowan, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said his team can only go so far on specifics during this process, as it hasn’t subjected the project to even preliminary bids.
But he said he’s also aware the expectation on the project and is trying to not stall the development.