BLACKSBURG — A proposed affordable housing development in one of Southwest Virginia’s most expensive real estate markets has sparked debate to the point of activism.
Community Housing Partners is proposing to build a 56-unit apartment building on just under three acres of land on the southeast corner of Country Club Drive and South Main Street, an area immediately surrounded by residential neighborhoods and centers shopping including a Kroger grocery store.
Legacy on Main would use low-income housing tax credits. To qualify, residents would be allowed to earn up to 80% of the Blacksburg area median income, which the CHP says on the project’s online page is $63,000 a year for a family of four. people in town.
The project is estimated at around $10 million, according to CHP.
Among the points touted by the CHP is that Legacy on Main would help address a problem that critics say has effectively kept some of the working population from living in Blacksburg.
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Despite the advertised benefits, the project has drawn a number of criticisms, which in recent months have raised concerns about the development’s potential impact on neighborhood traffic and safety.
Several opponents have argued that they are not against adding affordable housing to the city, including at CHP’s proposed location, but rather fear the development is too dense.
Legacy on Main calls for 142 rooms, or about 52 rooms per acre. The height, which has also drawn criticism, is said to be 39 feet on the three-storey part of the building and 49 feet on the four-storey part.
CHP is asking the city to move the project land from the so-called R-5 Transitional Residential zoning to Intended Residential, a designation that developers have often sought to achieve greater flexibility with density.
The R-5 zone allows multi-family units as long as a conditional use permit is approved and issued, but the district caps its maximum density at 20 rooms per acre — a fact pushed by opponents. Another point they raised is that the city’s future land use designation for the property would be medium-density residential, which has the same room-per-acre limit as the current neighborhood.
Opponents have also raised the fact that they believe the width of Country Club Drive is too narrow and a pedestrian hazard could be raised by the development. They are also concerned about the impact of traffic on nearby neighborhood roads that have long been used as stretches to Main Street.
In addition to comments at past city-sponsored meetings and a flurry of correspondence with Blacksburg city officials, criticism of the development as proposed has come via several protests and the erection of a sign near South Main and Country Club.
The Planning Commission issued a narrow recommendation in favor of rezoning.
The city council is due to vote on the measure on Tuesday evening.
“This will be the toughest vote I’ve ever taken,” Councilwoman Susan Mattingly said. “I understand the neighbours’ concerns… It’s very difficult.”
On the other hand, finding affordable housing has long been a serious challenge in Blacksburg and the problem has worsened since the start of the pandemic due to a larger national housing boom, Mattingly and others said. city officials.
“It will change the character of the neighborhood. The entrance to this neighborhood will forever be changed,” she said. “But the city of Blacksburg is growing everywhere. We have development pressure all over the city. Obviously, the neighborhood is very, very upset about this, and that’s making it difficult. [But] we also have a deep need for affordable housing. Keeping R-5 doesn’t move the needle in the direction we need it. It’s a choice we’re going to have to make. »
Blacksburg has made efforts in recent years to address its housing affordability issue. This work has recently included surveys and studies done at both the city and regional level and the idea of a community land trust that would create a permanent affordable housing stock and cap the appreciation of a home. in this trust.
While it doesn’t paint a full picture of the city’s housing market, the most recent US Census data shows that the median value of owner-occupied homes in Blacksburg is $298,400. That same data point is $190,000 and $170,800 for neighbors Christiansburg and Radford, respectively.
For naysayers, traffic and safety concerns still trump those over the city’s longstanding struggles with affordability. And several, again, maintain that they don’t dismiss the affordability issue and would otherwise support a scaled-down project – something the developer said has already been done and can no longer be done without damaging feasibility. economics of development.
Blacksburg resident Ed Hokanson said the development was “too much for this space” and referenced the land’s current zoning and future land designation.
“Now a developer comes in asking for a rezoning to put in two and a half times, three times, the number of units that the zoning allows,” he said. “It’s going to wreak havoc in this small space.
Affordable housing is needed, “but it’s not the space”, he added.
Hokanson held two anti-development protests last month, each of which he said drew half a dozen people.
Hokanson said he also doesn’t see the issue as a problem limited to the area near South Main and Country Club Drive. He said increased densities in one section of the city can spill over to other parts.
Kari Brizendine, who lives on Mateer Circle and near the site, is one of many people who have written to the city about it.
Like other reviewers, Brizendine raised questions about whether Country Club Drive can safely handle increased traffic.
“This street is so narrow that residents coming out of their driveway have to cross the center line to make the turn. Traffic slows down if there are three cars in the right lane and other cars drive on the wrong side of the street to enter the left lane,” Brizendine wrote.
Despite the vast opposition, Legacy on South Main has supporters.
“Interestingly, the same people who complain about Legacy have no qualms about [the project] on the rugby pitch,” said Dan McMichael, who lives along Airport Road. “For me it boils down to I don’t think they want poor people living near them.”
The Rugby Field project McMichael refers to is a plan to build just under 100 townhouses on property behind the Kroger. He said the development, which is on Country Club Drive just west of South Main, is not considered an affordable housing project.
The townhouses had their detractors, but the number of people who showed up to talk about the development at a council meeting last month paled in comparison to the crowds in Legacy on South Main on the evening of the recommendation of the planning committee. Although the development was successful in securing a necessary conditional use permit, not all council members voted in favor of the measure.
McMichael put up a sign in his yard supporting Legacy on South Main. While naysayers may have raised some valid concerns, he said he ended up ignoring most of them due to derogatory comments he heard at a city-sponsored neighborhood meeting.
McMichael said among those comments was a claim that residents of Legacy on South Main would not be able to shop at “Gucci Kroger” – the nickname many in Blacksburg have given the South Main grocery store in due to its more upscale appearance.
One of the points that CHP has provided to meet the need for the development at its proposed location is proximity to services such as groceries.
McMichael said he otherwise views much of the commentary against the development as nothing more than a series of excuses not to put it in this area. For example, regarding the width issue regarding Country Club Drive, he said the issue was really not in CHP’s hands, but the organization was still trying to resolve it by promising to reconfigure the sidewalk and to widen the sidewalk specifically for pedestrian safety.
McMicheal said the other major issue driving his support for Legacy on Main is how the city has become increasingly out of reach for skilled workers such as teachers and police officers, who are among the groups that the CHP is considering for development.
“We are desperate,” he said, referring to the city’s affordability. “If I move to Blacksburg right now, I’m not sure I can afford a house. I don’t think I can sell my house and buy it back immediately.
Others echoed the argument that workers who have the education and skills to earn more than a living wage should face fewer barriers to living in Blacksburg.
Kelly Pender, an English professor at Virginia Tech who lives a few blocks from the proposed site, said the non-permanent track in her department starts at just over $40,000. She said this type of compensation greatly reduces their chances of buying a house in the city.
“They can’t buy houses here,” she said. Legacy on Main, “this is an opportunity to tone it down a bit.”
The location makes sense, given its proximity to shopping, public transportation and an elementary school, Pender said.
“It may be true that it’s too dense, too tall or impractical, but to me those claims don’t outweigh the need for affordable housing,” she said, adding that she doubted that there was an ideal location for this type of accommodation. development.
Tuesday’s municipal council meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the municipal building.