Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Meeting yields mixed reviews of Huff Lane school property

Jean Rhinehart and Lucian and Amy Lamontagne background.

UPDATE: The Planning Commission meeting on the property has been continued until December 20.

Developers are usually the one to request a postponement. In this case it could be due to planning staff recommending that they submit a site plan as part of the rezoning petition and not just a non-binding concept plan. “The developer had declined to do that so far but may have thought better of that decision after yesterday’s meeting,” said an anonymous source.


The VFW Post on Grandview Road was shoulder to shoulder Monday evening as the city and civil engineer Sheldon Bower with Parker Design Group answered questions from the Round Hill neighborhood. The architectural firm nbj is out of Richmond, Virginia. Councilman Court Rosen first floated the idea for two hotels at a Dorchester Court Neighborhood Watch meeting in March of 2011.

Eleven-year resident Jean Rhinehart and her daughter Tina live directly across from the property on the corner of Huff Lane and Dorchester Drive. They walk their dogs and wanted to make sure the sidewalk would stay. “I like the scenery part and it looks like it is open – not too closed in. I’m not going to feel smothered,” said Rhinehart. She’s looking forward to a view.

One neighbor who lived half way up Vancouver Street thought the height comparison with the surrounding trees was a little deceiving. “I’m not real happy with the height … I’m used to looking out my kitchen window and seeing the mountains,” said another neighbor.

Lucian and Amy Lamontagne moved from Florida to Roanoke five years ago because they wanted to experience the change of seasons. They picked their home at the corner of Vancouver and Huff Lane for the view. “We bought the house for our children’s future … no more flying kites and we will no longer have a view,” he said.

Calvin Huff distant relative of Peter Huff.

Calvin Huff, a resident for over 40 years lives next door to Lamontagne. He said his great uncle Peter Huff gave the property to then Roanoke County in 1949 to be used for a park or school. Huff said, “[the city] is going to do what they want to do and run on top of everyone.”

The two 60-foot 5-story hotels will be placed vertical to the neighborhood and will have a restaurant in between that will primarily cater to the hotel guests. According to Bower he anticipates hotel franchises like a Hilton Garden Inn and a Marriott though that could change. Until the property is firmly in the hands of owners NDRA II, LLC, interested franchises will wait to commit.

City Council voted unanimously to sell the 5.3-acre Huff Lane school on March 19. The sale of the property is contingent on rezoning the property to large-scale commercial. In addition an easement across Valley View Boulevard was a condition to satisfy the need for an adequate water supply. The Roanoke City Planning Commission will vote on the plan at their Thursday November 15 December 20 meeting.

A city official expressed some trepidation on the part of the Planning Commission. Discussion at a work session centered on the lack of design detail. One city official that asked for anonymity said there would be at least one vote against the plan. “These presentations are tailored to give people the impression that it’s going to be fine. It takes a great deal of close examination to think about what all of the implications are. Most people don’t have time in this kind of setting.” It would be better to have a sit down meeting – “an informed civic discussion opposed to this which is just a sales job. It’s not proactive it’s reactive. It’s an attempt at justification for a forgone conclusion.”

The Planning Commission could either recommend the plan to city council or send it to council with a negative recommendation. One other option could be a request for additional detail before they vote on it Thursday. Assistant City Manager Brian Townsend, Police Chief Chris Perkins, Councilman Ray Ferris and the new City Attorney Dan Callaghan were just a few of the city officials attending the public meeting.

Vice Mayor Court Rosen who was instrumental in getting buy-in from the neighborhood had assured them that the hotel option would yield the least impact. “None of the usable park that you have is going to be taken,” he told the Dorchester neighborhood 18 months ago. It would be added to the Capital Improvement Plans he said.

Hotel rendering by Parker Design Group.

There was no formal presentation Monday evening only displays on easels and tables. Conspicuously absent were any details of the promised park improvements. The school’s park that was also used by the neighborhood was a promise by Court Rosen and city staff in previous meetings. Planning Administrator Chris Chittum when asked was uncertain when the playground equipment and pavilion with bathrooms would be constructed at the opposite end of the property near the tennis courts.

The word had not reached all the affected neighbors though Rosen had floated the idea to the Dorchester neighborhood in March. That meeting was followed by a public presentation by city staff at Grace United Methodist Church of the hotels and restaurant in January. At that meeting a representative for the owners said to be a profitable venture it would take 80-100 rooms each that would be in two buildings of 5 or 6 levels.

“Leveraging the value of commercial property and the sustainability of increased tax revenue in order to keep the schools well funded” was the deciding factor said Rob Ledger the city’s economic development director. The $1.7 million purchase price will go toward expansion of Round Hill Elementary School. Round Hill took the students from Huff Lane when the School Board voted to close it in June of 2010.

Neighbors plan to gather at Grace United Methodist Church at a Dorchester neighborhood meeting Tuesday to discuss the Monday night open house.

The seven Huff Lane property offers included National College

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Community, Local Events

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