Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Protecting Mill Mountain never leaves a council agenda


Outgoing council member Gwen Mason heard three options for protecting Mill Mountain from development: no easement, a 537 acre easement and 535 acre easement. Former State Senator Granger MacFarlane would rather see no easement and instead a Mill Mountain Authority set up similar to the Roanoke Airport Authority where he served for 12 years.

Steven Higgs, Chair of the Mill Mountain Advisory Committee reported that the committee’s vote was 6-2 to support generally the concept of an easement. They then voted 5-3 for the “blue line” that includes over 2 acres of flat land. This land as Councilman Dave Trinkle referred to it is identified as the Valley Forward land. A parcel once occupied by the Rockledge Inn that gave birth to a restaurant idea by a group of young professionals named Valley Forward.

Higgs, an attorney then addressed council as a private citizen. Higgs told council he opposed the easement. “I applaud the conservation goal but the mechanism is not a good idea.” He claimed that only the slopes of the mountain would be protected from development. “It offers no protection at all to the summit which is constantly and routinely a magnet for the latest and greatest idea … it will only add another layer of arguments,” said Higgs.

Higgs believed that future generations would argue over what takes precedence: the Fishburn grant restrictions, the Mill Mountain management plan or zoning ordinances. Higgs clarified later that the Fishburn restrictions usurp easement and zoning restrictions.

A group of Mill Mountain easement supporters held up their “Go Blue Line” signs showing their support for placing the debated 2 acres in the easement.

Gail Burress forever a Mill Mountain conservancy advocate said that by supporting the blue line council would be saying, “no to development … our flagship city park will never support that vision.” The Mill Mountain Park is “our responsibility not to squander through magical thinking,” Burress said passionately.

Seventeen Fifteen speakers were heard many supporting an easement without identifying which option. Tori Williams, representing the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce supported the option to leave the two acres out of the easement.

Councilman Dave Trinkle pointed out that you could add land to an easement but removing it is almost impossible.

Vice-Mayor Lea referred to the mountain as an icon as was Victory Stadium. Calling it a tough decision and emphasizing the deluge of e-mails and phone calls all council members had received.

Mayor David Bowers said he preferred the original easement that included the Valley Forward parcel. “I thought it was why we started this whole process anyway,” said Bowers. He praised the Mill Mountain Advisory Committee and was the lone “no” vote as he had predicted in earlier briefings.

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.

The Western Virginia Land Trust and Virginia Outdoors Foundation would enforce restrictions and the easement would be in perpetuity.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Community, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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