BLACKSBURG - The Blacksburg Planning Commission on Tuesday night re-visited an ambitious proposal on the old Blacksburg Middle School site, a request the advisory body almost unanimously supported last year but recently had to take up again due to some technicalities.
The planning commission members discussed the rezoning of the roughly 20-acre site during a work session before subjecting the project to the first of two scheduled public hearings.
Due to a requirement in town code, the rezoning was kicked back to the planning commission last month after the request itself failed to move forward within six months of being recommended by the planning commission.
Planning commission Chairman Andrew Kassoff told the audience on Tuesday that no massive changes have been made to the project, but that “enough has changed in the process for re-evaluation.”
Over the past several months, the site’s progress has been hung up by the finalization of a development agreement between the town of Blacksburg and the developers, Midtown Redevelopment Partners.
The development agreement would, among other things, determine exactly how much public investment goes into a project that has been expected to cost more than $100 million.
One detail that the town and Midtown have yet to agree on is the exact amount of money the town will provide for a parking garage on the site.
Jeff Geiger, the Richmond-based attorney that Midtown has brought on to handle the rezoning itself, said he expects a parking garage to be built regardless. Without it, he said, the envisioned project doesn’t happen.
How much the town financially contributes will simply determine the size of the structure, he said.
“We can work with either option. It’s just going to drive the density,” he said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting.
The return of the project to the planning commission marked just the latest episode in one of longest - and perhaps most dramatic - development sagas in Montgomery County over the past few decades.
The school itself closed in 2002 and the site spent years in limbo as local governing bodies failed to agree on an exact direction for the property.
Midtown made a major stride during the fall of 2017 when it issued the plans that are now being discussed.
The current project, however, hasn’t been free of some setbacks. One occurred last year when a prospective tenant, IT firm 1901 Group, abandoned plans to possibly take up space at the site.
The application that the planning commission is going over again does contain some adjustments from the one the planning commission recommended last fall.
One change is a slight increase in the area Midtown wants placed in a downtown commercial district. The developer is requesting that the commercial area be expanded from roughly 9 to 10 acres to accommodate the hotel that they plan to bring to the site.
Midtown also once envisioned a large office building on South Main Street, but the developer is now considering the possibility of two separate commercial buildings on that part of the site.
Geiger said what exactly comes to the commercial area facing South Main will depend on the market demand.
Geiger also reiterated to the planning commission Tuesday that the illustrations displayed in the plans exist simply to give the town a general sense of the final product, but not an exact rendering or copy.
Planning commission members voiced a desire to see more details on the commercial area facing South Main, but they also acknowledged that such levels of detail would be hard to come by when considering the project’s schedule and the fact that no commercial tenant for the property’s front has been nailed down.
Still, planning commission member Gregg Moneyhun, who voted against recommending the rezoning last year, said during the work session that she still has issues with the project due to its scope.
“I feel when I look at this project, I feel like there’s a dozen rezonings we’re doing all at once,” Moneyhun said. “I just feel like we’re going to get bit by stuff we didn’t see before.”
The rezoning proposes to place the site’s front in a commercial zone and the property’s rear in a residential district that would allow townhomes and condominiums.
Geigner described the project as creating a southern gateway to downtown Blacksburg.
“Midtown will be a great place to live, work, play and shop,” he told the planning commission just before the public hearing. “Very rarely do you see this integration of civic, commercial and residential uses.”
Only one person, a woman whose name the Roanoke Times couldn’t immediately confirm, spoke on the rezoning Tuesday. She voiced a few concerns including one about water runoff and another about the possibility of the residential development drawing students.
The project, however, received massive support from residents when the planning commission took up the matter last fall.
Another public hearing on the project is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on March 19 at the Blacksburg Municipal Building.