Thursday, May 3, 2012

Seven year anniversary of city’s purchase of Countryside Golf Course

Countryside Entrance Sign of Old

May 3, 2005 the residents surrounding the Countryside Golf Course in Northwest Roanoke woke to an article in The Roanoke Times. Shock waves rippled down the street and gasps of surprise, fear and horror spread like wildfire by phone and email. (See CHANGE OF PLAN.)

What is going on? No warning to those who had just purchased their new “golf course” cottages adjoining the fairways. During the week I contacted councilman Brian Wishneff who offered to come to my home. He brought councilman Sherman Lea and Brian Townsend Planning Administrator. I notified as many neighbors as I could – running from door to door.

They all came. There was no room for everyone in the living room so they stood in the hallway, dining room and eventually the doorway. It was contentious to say the least as Wishneff took the brunt of the vitriol.

Lea and Wishneff were surprised that there were homes here. No city staff bothered to tell them though the homes were clearly marked on a Lawrence Group study performed in 2002-2003.

It was to be an upscale development by Toll Brothers. The purchase price to the city was $4.1 million financed through Carter Bank for 15 years at 6.25% interest. This year the balance was finally refinanced through a bond issuance but not before over $1 million of interest had been paid on the loan.

We formed a neighborhood organization to save our home values that were tied to the golf course. After the purchase it continued under management of the previous owner, Florida based Meadowbrook, Inc.

Without due diligence by the city on the condition of the property to continue as a golf course it began to deteriorate. Toll Brothers developers took a look at the property that winter and pulled the plug on their interest in February, 2006.

The city began to market it again and failed except for a yearlong stall of one Victor Foti. The city faced the death of the housing market and became desperate to do something with the 140-acre property. For awhile it was to be kept as golf course until in a closed session in February of 2010 council said shut it down. March 1 was the end.

Without repairs at a cost of $1.2 million Meadowbrook couldn’t make ends meet. Five years had passed with only minor upkeep by the city resulting in lose of memberships and more importantly tournaments who went elsewhere since they didn’t know whether the golf course would be open from one year to the next. Meadowbrook did no maintenance not knowing if they would get another year’s lease until the last minute. The leased tennis building used for lessons had to shut down for the same reason – no lease and could book no court time.

The airport was going to terminate leasing the runway protection zone but let the city renew the lease as along as it was used for a golf course. Then there was a detrimental trade of golf course land with a 12-acre piece that is for all intents and purposes useless. It lies at the end of runway 6 flight path.

Where is the neighborhood now? Council and the mayor have touted the “Master Plan” that was worked out (sort of) with the neighborhood. The trails being put in at a cost of $1.5 million are the only promising improvement for the homes that have lost as much as 14% of their value.

The $1.5 million plus the cost of mowing now for a third season comes to more than the repairs would have been to keep the golf course open. There would have been no mowing. The council says that Meadowbrook wanted $75,000 a year once the repairs were pulled from the CIP plan. Did council expect Meadowbrook to operate in a deficit? That would have been the case without repairs.

Here we are seven years later and what is there to show for it. In the fall so says the Planning Department the trails and partial greenway with natural areas and a park will be construction. That is the good thing. Though a branch library is promised it won’t be until something else comes to spur growth.


Back to the promised “certainty” of the Master Plan that was ambiguous at best – we have an amendment. The ink isn’t dry on the Countryside Master Plan and we have an amendment.

The Planning Commission work session Friday will take up changing the 12 acres in the flight path between Ranch and Portland from the plan’s agricultural designation to recreational use.

According to Chittum the parcel will hold lighted soccer fields. Two or more that would serve the Northwest Recreation Center. The letter does not say that but Mr. Chittum told me that was the plan in a phone call. Charles Price at our March neighborhood meeting brought a detail design by Richard Rife. It had four soccer fields, a practice field, a renovated tennis building with another attached building for indoor basketball and parking spaces around that location. They expected to lease the golf course parking lot from the city until other plans come along.

Mr. Price said it wasn’t his idea to move two of the soccer fields to the 12 acres and that was the first he heard of it from me. The idea of putting lighted tournament soccer fields on the 12-acres in the middle of the neighborhood is out of the question for us. Chittum said kids would travel from the tennis building area to the fields by way of the new greenway. No thank you.

The letter to the neighbors sounds nothing like the plan Chittum told me: letter CLICK HERE. Neighbors wanted a park and trails on that property for the Miller Court and Oak Leaf community children.

That was fine with us to move the park there for them but the Planning Department said no. Prior to the change of plan for a super library to branch libraries Chris Chittum Planning Department Administrator asked what then would they put at the park (12th fairway)? The answer is the branch library.

Posted By Valerie Garner

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