Note from Dan: The following was written by Patrick A. Corp, who lives in the Dorchester Court neighborhood near Valley View Mall. It’s a bit dated; he sent it to me on Nov. 5. Since then, a meeting with residents has been held. The Planning Commission meeting on the project has been postponed until December 20.
By Patrick A. Corp
On November 1st I attended, along with about 15 other residents of the Dorchester Court neighborhood, a public forum at the VFW Hall on Grandview Drive concerning the proposed development of the Huff Lane School site.
Due to a snafu in the mailing of the meeting notices most residents were not informed until the day of the forum. Because of this, a second forum will be held on Nov. 12th at 7 p.m. at the same location.
All of the city representatives in attendance at the forum, including council members Court Rosen and Bill Bestpitch, along with a developer representative, were very pleasant and attentive to concerns and questions that citizens voiced.
That being said, after listening to the proposal I did say I was opposed to the project, and here are my thoughts:
• The motels are to be five (5) stories in height (60 feet is the number given). When this development was first proposed I emailed all council members requesting that the development be limited in height. I also visited the city’s economic development office and voiced my concern at that time. I am not opposed to developing this property. I understand the economics of it. I understand the city’s desire to maximize its earnings from the sale. I understand the developer wanting to maximize their return. But honestly, five stories is too high. There are plenty of two- and three-story motels that exist and are profitable and are built all around the country. Five stories, or even four for that matter, will stick out like a sore thumb and tower over the neighborhood. Buildings above two stories will not even blend in with the existing commercial structures at Valley View.
• The Dorchester Court neighborhood is comprised of mostly middle-class to lower middle-class residents, and includes many residents who are not capable of being as active as perhaps they would have been years ago. It is also a neighborhood in transition as so many of those elderly pass on or move away. There is not a lot of money here necessarily, but it is a great quiet, peaceful, working-class neighborhood of all colors.
• It deserves respect and I am afraid the City, in its lust for the money to be made, will not do the right thing by this neighborhood’s citizens. I would suggest city employees with a vested interest — and council members — visit the neighborhood and physically stand at the intersections of Huff Lane and Vancouver, or Avalon, or Floraland and imagine two 60-foot high motels, with windows looking outward and down, abutting Huff Lane.
• These buildings will encroach on the area day and night. A berm cannot be built high enough to hide them. They also are not retail outlets that will close at eight, or nine, or ten in the evening, but 24-hour operations.
We average residents place our trust in elected officials and the city apparatus to do the right thing for us first and foremost. I struggle to find ‘the right thing’ in this proposal. Proposals such as these just are not happenstance. The developer is not going to waste resources planning a project of this magnitude without first having some idea that it can be completed.
I hesitate to conclude that the Planning Department is the guilty party here. Perhaps it is just inexperience and not callousness that allowed this project to proceed this far in the guise it has. And perhaps I am overreacting to having these monoliths hulking over our neighborhood. Perhaps.
An expansion of the park here would have been nice, to continue to promote greener areas in Roanoke, as I keep reading about, or another retail building even, but, hey, you gotta compromise sometimes. Times are tight and that is a valuable piece of real estate.
The Planning Commission meeting at which the rezoning proposal is to be considered will be held in December.
I truly hope City Council, and all city departments involved, grasp the magnitude of impact developing this property will have on Dorchester Court and are considerate of the neighborhood.
To date, the process that allowed this proposal to proceed in its current form begs to differ.