BLACKSBURG — The town’s plans to take control of most of the old high school site on Patrick Henry Drive will significantly hinge on the establishment of measures to discourage student housing on the property.
Developers Jeanne Stosser and David Hagan, who’s also one of the owners of the Christiansburg-based Shelor Motor Mile dealership, are asking the town to rezone a little more than 30 acres of the site to allow for a townhome development.
Town officials — along with many neighboring residents — have, however, voiced concerns about the development turning into student housing that could lead to safety issues and a density that could negatively impact adjacent neighborhoods.
The town planning commission unanimously voted against the recommendation of the project on Aug. 6.
“One thing we told the applicant … is to make sure that they put in enough restrictions to make the resulting housing not a student housing project,” Councilman John Bush said. “And I’m not sure that they’re there.”
The old high school site, which previously belonged to Montgomery County, was a major point of contention between it and Blacksburg more than two years ago when the town attempted to buy the entire site as part of plans to reserve the property for recreational uses.
The county and town couldn’t agree on the price of the land, for which at the time the county was asking $3 million. Another key sticking point was which locality would foot the cost of demolishing the old school building.
The county ultimately decided to sell the property to a firm formed by Hagan, who has since been joined by Stosser in the effort to redevelop the site.
Blacksburg, however, has been granted an opportunity to still involve itself in the land’s ownership.
Earlier this year, the town entered into an agreement to buy roughly two-thirds of the property from the developers with hopes to fulfill its long-held plan to keep at least some of the site open for recreational use.
The town has agreed to pay the developers $3.3 million, $2 million of which would go toward the land itself. The remainder is set to go toward the cost of demolishing the old school building — already in the midst of being torn down — and the construction of infrastructure such as utilities.
The agreement allows the developers to keep the remaining third of the property, which they plan to build the townhomes on.
The town’s deal with the developers falls apart if the rezoning fails.
The developers have raised concerns about the potential violation of federal fair housing laws, but town officials have said there are ways to discourage student occupants.
Bush said there is the establishment of a homeowners association that can set guidelines for residents and property owners. Those guidelines, Bush said, can include requirements that the property owners live inside the homes for most of the year or minimizing short-term rentals.
The development always seemed to target young families and young professionals, Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith said.
“This was not designed as student housing, and we want to make sure that understanding is made clear,” she said.
Stosser is voicing receptiveness to the town’s concerns.
“At the moment, we are doing our best to address the desire of the town regarding undergraduate housing with language that does not create a restriction that may lead to any violation,” she wrote in a text message.
As part of the agreement, the developers would build the townhomes on the middle portion of the site — which consists of 11.2 acres. The town would use the remaining 20.6 acres for recreation uses and open space.
Town council has scheduled a Sept. 10 public hearing on the rezoning.
The property is currently zoned for single-family homes, but the rezoning would move the site into what’s called a planned residential district. Developers often seek the planned residential zoning when building dense projects.