Red line includes Rockledge acreage in easement
An Internet survey of 254 respondents, public input by 75 citizens followed by a public hearing on June 21 and council agreement will set the boundary for the Mill Mountain conservation easement. Assistant Manager Brian Townsend at Monday morning’s council briefing presented an update.
Though a public hearing is still pending the easement has boiled down to the area where Valley Forward had proposed the Rockledge Center over two years ago. The proposal almost reached the scale of Victory Stadium in debate. Indications are that a majority of council favors excluding the area from the conservation easement.
Ninety-three percent of online survey respondents believed that Mill Mountain needs protecting.
In ranking of importance scenic beauty came in first with natural preservation, viewshed protection and recreational value close seconds. Councilman Court Rosen remarked that he did not believe that 254 respondents was representative of the city. Townsend reminded Rosen that the public hearing would allow other citizens to weigh in before the easement is finalized.
Stakeholder discussions included: Western Virginia Water Authority, Mill Mountain Zoo, Roanoke Gas, American Electric Power, Mill Mountain Advisory Board, Western Virginia Land Trust and Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
Townsend identified the area already developed that would automatically be excluded from the easement – primarily the existing Mill Mountain Zoo, the Star and the Discovery Center. The acreage for zoo expansion was the first exclusion from the easement and was agreeable to all the council members.
The exclusion of the area around the proposed Rockledge Center then came to the forefront.
Rosen said, “as one person I would like to see that area excluded from the conservation easement not because I think we should be building something right now but I think that is an area that has some developable purpose down the road.”
Councilman Rupert Cutler explained that depending on the language of the conservation easement there could be some additional construction. An example Townsend gave as language in a conservation easement was “no commercial or industrial activity within the easement area except for…”
Though a zoo eatery would be excluded from the easement according to city attorney Bill Hackworth it would still require approval of council if a new leased building was constructed to house it. As all parks in the city Mill Mountain is zoned Recreational Open Space (ROS) affording some protection without an easement though subject to rezoning by advisory board agreement and approval by council.
A conservation easement limits subdividing the acreage by no more than 5 parcels. Individual structures can be no more than 5,000 square feet and the aggregate amount of construction for the entire easement can be no more than 50,000 square feet.
Permitted use in the easement would be limited to nature education, forestry, recreation and trails. Temporary seasonal activity would be allowed primarily for Parks and Recreation Department programs.
Use of signage, grading, trash accumulation and tree cutting fall into other restrictions. The view from the observation platforms could be kept clear with language added to the easement. The Western Virginia Land Trust and Virginia Outdoors Foundation would enforce restrictions and the easement would be in perpetuity. Their permission would be required to permit construction over the square footage limits but any amendment “can not adversely affect the principle purpose of the easement,” said Townsend.
About 28.8 acres of the 568 acres would be excluded from the easement as recommended by staff following the public input sessions.
The portion once proposed for the Rockledge restaurant was left open for the public hearing with Rosen, Cutler and Vice-Mayor Sherman Lea stating they would not favor including the area in the easement. Mayor David Bowers favored including it in the easement. Polled later Council member Anita Price indicated she would be favorable to the exclusion but would wait for the public hearing before making her final decision.
Following the public hearing and council vote on June 21 the finalized deed can be executed with the grantees.
Posted By Valerie Garner
Categories: Politics, Roanoke City Politics
Tags: city_council, Court Rosen, environment, parks, study