BLACKSBURG — A San Francisco-based apartment developer is seeking a rezoning from the town as part of ambitious plans to expand the Terrace View Apartments, a longtime complex at the corner of Patrick Henry Drive and Toms Creek Road that regularly houses Virginia Tech students.
A rezoning application from Joe Sherman, president of The Reliant Group, asks that the town change 14 acres of the Terrace View property from “RM-48 medium density residential district” to the often-sought planned residential zoning district.
The rezoning would allow the new project to exceed the current district’s density limit of 48 bedrooms per acre for multi-family developments. Plans filed with the town show that the development proposes a maximum density of 109 bedrooms per acre.
Plans call for the demolition of 16 of Terrace View’s 40 apartment buildings and replacing those 16 structures with just two buildings — but each much larger — geared for student housing.
In addition, a parking deck would go within the core of each of the two new buildings.
Amenities would include clubhouses, fitness centers and cafes, according to plans.
The project aims to capture some of the expected enrollment growth at Virginia Tech over the next several years. The new construction would also complement an ongoing $19 million renovation on the remainder of the complex.
“That’s been part of a much larger conversation,” Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith, who recently spoke with Reliant, said. “We can’t just talk rhetoric about high density. We really need to make it happen in the appropriate places, and this is certainly an appropriate place.”
Terrace View is part of a student housing-friendly corridor that spans roughly from Patrick Henry and North Main Street to the U.S. 460 bypass, Hager-Smith said.
Town officials view neighborhoods, such as the one around Terrace View, as key in helping control the growth pressure from Tech.
While demand for student housing in town remains consistent, town officials have argued that directing students to almost any area that allows houses can negatively impact single-family neighborhoods and exacerbate challenges such as traffic.
Hager-Smith said more projects such as Terrace View — but likely smaller — are expected down the road. She said she knows town staff has proactively engaged the owners of apartment complexes marketed to students and asked them about what they see as current impediments to redevelopment.
Among those impediments is allowed density, which several owners want expanded, Hager-Smith said.
“And here’s the alignment: We [the town] need greater density, too,” she said.
Terrace View currently offers a total of 756 units and 1,720 bedrooms. The 16 buildings targeted for demolition currently provide 198 units and 533 bedrooms.
The two new buildings would offer a total of 496 units and 1,521 bedrooms.
The next step in the rezoning process is a scheduled June 19 town Planning Commission work session that will begin at 5 p.m. at the Blacksburg Motor Company.
The commission acts as an advisory arm to town council and regularly issues votes on matters such as rezoning and special permit requests. Town council, however, is not bound to whichever stance the planning commission takes on a matter.
Should the rezoning get approval later this year, construction of the new Terrace View buildings could begin by May or June of 2019, Matt Whyland, Reliant’s vice president of asset management, said.
Whyland said the complex would then simply not renew the leases on the units inside the 16 buildings slated for demolition. He said those tenants would either find other units in the complex or move to another apartment community in town.
One aspect of the development Hager-Smith said she likes is that the project honors the area’s history.
Plans show that the design of the new Terrace View buildings draws architectural inspiration from the area’s past coal and agricultural industries. Plans include photos of a Merrimac Coal Mines facility from the early 1900s and Southwest Virginia barns.
Attention to architectural design is important to Blacksburg, which shouldn’t “end up looking like anywhere USA,” Hager-Smith said.
“They came in and they did their homework. They researched iconic building materials and types in the area,” she said. “I can’t remember when we’ve ever seen that from somebody else. They have really made a sincere effort to give Blacksburg something unique.”