Opposition forms to Blacksburg housing proposal
Nearly 200 people have signed a petition designed to block an off-campus student housing project in northwest Blacksburg proposed by Georgia-based Landmark Properties Inc.
Some nearby residents say that the company’s concept to build 192 student homes is too dense for the 48-acre site north of Glade Road. The vacant land is earmarked in town planning documents for about 48 single family homes and that would be a much better use of it, opponent say.
The proposed student housing project, which Landmark calls The Retreat, is the latest in a series of collegiate communities built by the company in seven states. So far on the Blacksburg project, Landmark has contracted to buy the land, which they say is the only suitable lot in the town for a student housing complex.
Adjacent landowners have formed an opposition group called Tom’s Creek Responsible Development, have a website and Facebook page, and are circulating an online petition that had 197 signatures as of late last week. They are raising several concerns about not just density but also environmental and traffic issues.
Town Manager Marc Verniel confirmed that Landmark’s vision for The Retreat would not comply with land-use directives found in the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance. Landmark has not yet filed any proposal with the town.
The next turn of events will be the town’s evaluation of a request filed May 4 by the landowner, Glade Heights LLC, to change the comprehensive plan to allow the level of development that Landmark Properties envisions. That process could take several months. Glade Heights has a contract to sell the land to Landmark or its affiliate.
In spite of the resident opposition, which was voiced to Landmark officials at a meeting last month, the company is still pushing forward.
Andrew Dolbin-MacNab is an eight-year resident of Village at Tom’s Creek, a neighborhood beside the site. He said he can’t see the site from his house but sees it on walks. Not only is the proposal too dense, Dolbin-MacNab said he questioned the company’s pitch to the community.
For instance, while Landmark states that campus is a half-mile walk from the site, that takes one only to the edge of the Inn at Virginia Tech property, Dolbin-MacNab said. The center of the drillfield is more than a mile away, which he said undercuts Landmark’s marketing message that students could easily bike or walk to campus.
Dolbin-MacNab, and other Village Tom’s Creek resident, also raise doubts about Landmark’s needs analysis.
On a website about The Retreat, Landmark projected forward enrollment growth at Virginia Tech for the past seven years as if it will continue for years to come. However, enrollment growth is slowing, according to Virginia Tech data. Landmark’s published estimate for the number of new students likely to attend Tech – 370 a year – is about three times what the university predicts.
In addition, Landmark Properties appears to have somewhat undercounted available housing. It based its assertion that more housing is needed in part on the supply of bedrooms in the eight large student housing complexes. There are at least 32 venues for student rental housing in Blacksburg, according to the New River Valley Apartment Council.
Also, while the occupancy rate for them is currently high, the demand for off-campus housing is weaker for fall 2012 because the university intends to open additional on-campus housing, said Stephanie Weeks, president of the apartment council.
University officials who oversee student housing “have not seen nor been aware of students experiencing problems finding off-campus housing,” VT spokesman Larry Hincker said.
Jason Doornbos, a vice president of development at Landmark, when asked about the challenge to the company’s analysis, said his company did not previously have the latest enrollment outlook by the university. He said Blacksburg needs the project even without the enrollment growth of 370 students a year that Landmark projected. That’s because housing purpose-built for students is virtually full and students are living in near-campus neighborhoods, where their presence and lifestyle creates tension for non-student residents and families, he said.
“It is our opinion, based on over a decade of developing student housing, that this market needs additional student housing, and specifically our ‘student cottage’ product,” Doornbos said.
Eric Sallee, managing member of Glade Heights, which owns the land, declined to comment on the student housing proposal. Sallee, who lives in the Village at Tom’s Creek, also declined to comment when asked his opinion as a resident.
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