The Roanoke Planning Commission gave its blessing Monday to a plan by Richfield Living to construct a two-phase retirement community on 14 acres just off Orange Avenue east of downtown.

The vote was 7-0 to recommend approval of the project on Mecca Street Northeast that will include 116 nursing care beds in its first phase, to be followed by 70 assisted living apartments, 110 independent living apartments for seniors and a “town center” building that feature common areas and commercial spaces.

Final approval of the rezoning from residential single-family to institutional planned unit district must come from the Roanoke City Council, which is expected to consider the application during its 7 p.m. March 18 meeting.

Officials from Richfield said the primary nursing care building on their Roanoke County campus just west of Salem is 39 years old and nearing the end of its useful life. In considering that and the growing demand for senior care, they sought to expand elsewhere in the Roanoke Valley.

Richfield officials and their project developer met with neighbors and the Wildwood Civic League twice to lay out the plan and hear concerns.

Although the civic league ultimately supported the project, many neighbors worried about additional traffic. The site is approximately two miles east of the busy intersection of Orange Avenue and Williamson Road and the Berglund Center.

As part of the plan recommended for approval Monday, the intersection of Mecca Street and Orange Avenue would become a four-way signaled intersection with the second phase of the Richfield project.

The second Richfield building, along with additional neighborhood traffic, is expected to create enough total traffic to require the traffic light.

Only one person raised objection to the Richfield plan during a public hearing. Roanoke commercial real estate executive Dennis Cronk, who owns a piece of property along Orange Avenue that also abuts the proposed Richfield site, asked how the addition of a traffic signal at Mecca and Orange would affect his plans to have a signal access to his property just to the east on Orange Avenue.

The two proposed traffic lights are so close together that their distance is less than allowed by Virginia Department of Transportation guidelines, city traffic engineers confirmed.

With no widening of already heavily congested Orange Avenue likely in the foreseeable future, engineers would be unlikely to allow both traffic lights because that would further slow traffic.

Cronk asked whether Monday’s approval of both phases the Richfield plan, including the requirement of the light at Mecca, would be included in the calculations regarding his request for lighted access to his property. He was told it would.

“Wow,” he said before leaving the speaker’s lectern. His property would be “stigmatized” by the situation, even though he might develop his land before Richfield ever begins its second phase.

Commissioners Kit Hale and Frank Martin, both in commercial real estate themselves, lamented that the marketability and use of Cronk’s land could be affected by circumstances beyond his control.

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Matt Chittum covers Roanoke City. A Roanoke native, he’s been at the Roanoke Times for more than two decades, having overcome an inauspicious start with a part-time clerical job.

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