Friday, September 14, 2012

Countryside property usage consistently “inconsistent”

Countryside Golf Course Before and After

The twists and turns, plans and promises associated with the now defunct Countryside golf course would make a good book – “How to Ruin a Vibrant Thriving Neighborhood.” That was the topic on a bus tour of the Countryside neighborhood during the Statewide Neighborhood Conference held in Roanoke in 2010.

The out-of-town attendees aboard the bus went from one side of the bus to the other as I narrated the tour. They looked at the pavilion that the neighborhood used for picnics, dancing, laughing and music. Use of it was always free. The golf course operators would donate gift certificates for free rounds of golf as door prizes. They asked why the city was not mowing the tall weeds and what happened to the pool and the rusting tennis building.

The tour of our neighborhood was the last on the list dubbed “What a city should not do to a neighborhood.” This was suggested by our neighborhood coordinator when I balked at doing a tour because of the situation. Those on the bus were dumbfounded after touring of other neighborhoods that had progress to report. Even a few of those neighborhoods on the bus said it was the most talked about tour.

Monday evening again the Countryside neighborhood is up for change to a Master Plan that was just adopted by city council a year ago. The Planning Commission voted 5-2 to not change the 12-acre Portland parcel from urban agriculture to community recreation for half of a Sports Complex soccer fields.

At the direction of the city council the Planning Commission in an almost yearlong effort with the Countryside Neighborhood Alliance in special work sessions hammered out a Master Plan. The Portland parcel at first had athletic fields in some form but without discussion PC members suggested  urban farming. All the attending neighbors affirmed the idea as planning commission members made the case for spurring growth in a town center. A town center is the “center” of the whole Master Plan and the purpose for everything else emanating from it.

Clubhouse Today

The deck is stacked against us I fear because already there is a falsehood stated in the agenda. “The public input phase, which included a workshop at William Fleming, revealed significant opposition t o agricultural use of the parcels in any form. Some nearby residents requested consideration of re-designating the Portland Planning Area from agriculture to recreation.” That was not our neighborhood.

The Countryside neighborhood was surprised when the 400 chickens became part of a proposal. It was never mentioned in the work sessions or it could have been hashed out then saving all a lot of grief.

That said some of the neighbors were excited about it and others were horrified. However all members as confirmed in the work sessions were fine with urban farming or any other agricultural usage. The property came into the hands of the city when the former city manager Darlene Burcham agreed to trade golf course property for airport property not conducive to being used for much of anything.

The proposal from Northwest Recreation Club and Roanoke Valley Youth Soccer has “inspired” Parks and Recreation. Letters of approval from hotels and the school system who said they were willing to “discuss” usage of William Fleming facilities are included. The Sports Complex will be split between the tennis building area and the Portland parcel with our neighborhood in-between and townhomes and homes will be adjacent to it. The number of tournaments is staggering and on street parking will fill the surrounding streets.

They said no lighting but I see on the presentation that it is an option. “If lighting is used, it should be shielded and aimed to eliminate light spillover and glare.”

Our position is the same as the planning commission members – DON’T CHANGE IT. Of the two votes for recreation – Mr. Futrell did not attend or participate in any of the work sessions that I can recall. His comment for his decision was indiscernible. Mr. Hale is new to the planning commission and did not participate in the work sessions either which he admitted to as he voted.

The other members worked hard and took their duty very seriously and understand how by changing one piece of the puzzle effects the other pieces. In this case dramatically. There will be no town center if this Sportplex is placed here and no branch library.

No developer will want to build residences near lighted sports fields with an expected attendance in the thousands as the proposal touts. So say realtors too who are reluctant to say so outloud but have privately basically said “what in the world are they thinking.”

I visited Colonial Green and a realtor there lamented on the city’s purchase of the golf course property in 2005 and the plan for “upscale housing.” That didn’t stop city council(s) from comparing the plans for the Countryside property to Colonial Green ad nauseam and saying that is what we have to look forward to.

Planning Commission Chair member Lora Katz said it best, “the agriculture component affects other pieces of the plan and it is too early to start revamping the plan and it would affect other pieces and stated that she agreed with Mr. Van Hyning (another member) and we need to give it a chance. She stated if the Co-op came with a plan without chickens, it would have been approved as an urban farm, and she hoped another group would come forward, and have something the whole neighborhood could be proud of.” They all said that not even the trails and park had been started yet to spur other parcel interest.

Mr. Van Hyning had said, “that there was opposition to the agriculture, but there wasn’t consensus on that issue either, and they are just the loudest voices.”

An adjacent townhome resident who works for the airport said, “are they crazy putting children under the airplanes” and “don’t they know that these airplanes are less than 500 feet from the ground” at that point on the parcel during arrival and departure. He pulled out a handbook to point that out for the Roanoke Regional Airport. I was just watching the news as CNN reported “things” dropping off airplanes occasionally and a homeowner picking up a piece of metal. The noise for those fields will be intolerable.

There is one thing that has been consistent since 2005 and that is “inconsistency.”  If the plan was to use the property for a sports complex why did they waste the PC’s and our time putting a Master Plan together?

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Commentary

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