Roanokers will have to wait for their Costco and Top Golf.
After meeting resistance from city planning commissioners and staff last week, a North Carolina developer withdrew controversial plans to build a mixed retail and residential project on the Evans Spring site in northwest Roanoke.
“It became very evident during Friday’s Planning Commission Workshop that there is no reason to continue this process,” wrote Pavilion Development Co. Senior Vice President Jim Gamble in an email to the city planning staff late Tuesday.
Pavilion had applied to rezone the 93-acre site to allow its development plans. The mostly wooded site borders Interstate 581 across from the Valley View Mall area.
The rezoning was to have been considered in March by the planning commission, an appointed advisory panel. After the commission made its recommendation, it would have been up the city council to hold a public hearing and take a final vote.
Gamble told the commission Friday that his company’s plan was driven by what was required to make the development economically viable. In an interview, he acknowledged a significant piece of the equation is the cost of connecting the site to the I-581 interchange nearby, a project likely to run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Pavilion’s local attorney, Maryellen Goodlatte, said it’s unclear whether the developer might try to revise its plans and try again.
“It’s just too soon,” she said. “Pavilion just needs to step back, think about what can be done, and see if the sellers are willing to walk through a longer process here.”
Pavilion has worked on the project for more than two years, including organizing options to purchase 125 separate parcels that make up the site from 16 different owners. That includes 12 private residences.
Pavilion’s plan, submitted with its rezoning application, showed a range of uses, including a wholesale warehouse club and a golf-related recreational facility, widely rumored, though never confirmed, to be a Costco and Top Golf respectively.
The plan showed several outparcels for restaurants and retail, a neighborhood retail center with a grocery store and a residential area with a 14-building, 300-unit apartment complex.
It also showed an extension of the Lick Run Greenway, to be built at the developer’s expense.
Goodlatte said Pavilion attempted to address every concern raised by neighbors and city staff.
But the plan was controversial from the outset, drawing worry from neighbors about traffic in the surrounding neighborhood and the safety of students at the Roanoke Academy for Math and Science elementary school just across the street.
The site, location of an unfinished subdivision dating to the 1970s, is one of the last large sites seemingly ripe for commercial development in the city.
Installation of an interchange on I-581 made development more likely by opening up a potential connection to the Valley View Boulevard area and inviting traffic from the interstate.
So city planners worked with neighbors to devise a general plan for the site that allowed commercial development but buffered it from the surrounding neighborhood with a layer of commercial development.
When they discussed Pavilion’s plan last week, some planners found it failed to conform to the city’s plan, especially with regard to the edges of the site abutting neighborhood streets.
One commissioner, Lora Katz, said the plan reflected a “bulldozer mentality” and called it “unconscionable.”
City staff also raised concerns about traffic created on neighboring streets, some of which would see a tenfold increase each day.
In addition, the road to the interchange 70 feet above would create retaining walls up to 60 feet high just 20 feet from the backyards of neighboring homes.
Cheryl Hilton, president of the neighborhood Fairland Civic Organization, had delivered her neighbors’ concerns to Pavilion from early on. Pavilion met multiple times with neighborhood groups and held two public meetings about its plans at William Fleming High School last year.
She said the apparent end of Pavilion’s plans was good news, but she confessed mixed feelings.
“I recognize the city of Roanoke could benefit from the development of that property,” Hilton said. “But the way that it was shaped by Pavilion wasn’t working. It would not have worked and I don’t think it would have been sustainable.”
She said she was also mindful of the private homeowners on Top Hill Drive who planned to sell to Pavilion and move.
Hilton said she hopes the next developer works more closely with the community and pays more attention to the city’s Evans Spring plan.
“I am glad that we have the Evans Spring plan in place and that the city is postured to enforce it.”