Saturday, April 14, 2007

View From the Outside

Countryside Golf Course in Roanoke, VA is under attack by a city bent on development. Several years ago now, the city purchased the financially struggling course and began a study of how to use the property. Since then, they have decided to pursue a housing/retail development on the grounds of the beautiful course. The city claims the development would be good for the city and provide needed middle income housing for its residents. What follows is a rebuttal to a Roanoke Times editorial that appeared in the newspaper last week. I posted the original in the public comment section of the newspaper’s website.

Countryside

It’s all about opportunities; perceived, misguided, twisted, wonderful,and welcomed.

I remember very well when the house I grew up in on Garstland Drive across from Countryside was annexed by Roanoke City. Oh there were so many promises: parks…services…SIDEWALKS! What happened? None of that.

The one thing that the area already had was a most amazing family recreation club. Ellis Maples, highly respected golf course designer (Pinehurst), created a most challenging golf course. The founding organization put in Roanoke’s only Olympic-sized Competitive swimming pool and a spacious tennis center.

I remember when it was being built and when it finally opened. We were all so proud of the whole complex. Many of the neighbors from Dansbury, Fairhope, Ranch, Garstland, Lynhope, Portland, Lewiston, and other nearby road joined the club. It became a true community center.

In recent years, the course has been somewhat neglected and it is a shell of its 1970’s championship form. The once amazing pool is now an empty concrete hole and the tennis center rusts away.

Over the last couple of years, the city has worked on turning a misguided opportunity in to an irreversible reality, one that is short-sighted and tone-deaf to the pleas of the community.

When the city bought the property, I was hopeful that, after careful study, city leaders would realize that they had a rough cut gem in their pockets. Countryside, in its same basic configuration, has so much to offer. What would happen if the city improved the golf course, re-established the water features that made it such a challenging course with the public invited to play? What would happen if the city would restore the Olympic- sized swimming facility and allow the public access? What would happen if the city developed the tennis center and made it open to city residents? What would happen if safe and secure running and biking paths were developed along the network of existing roads for the public?

Here’s what would happen. The city would gain a much needed recreation facility for all of its residents and especially those in the northwest section of the city who were promised so much so long ago.

In addition, it would have a facility that would be the envy of all surrounding towns, cities, and counties; even Salem. The city could market the course to business travelers flying in to Roanoke. Perhaps people would even begin traveling to Roanoke to play the great Ellis Maples course. Perhaps local swim clubs could sponsor regional swim meets. Perhaps the tennis center could host regional tennis tournaments. Perhaps the local community would find an anchor. The recreation and social potential is amazing.

All of this action would be a boon to the airport area hotel and food industry. Perhaps Delta Dental would even be able to rent out its modern contact lens factory (which was built by taking the original t-box for the third hole on the golf course). The vision is there, the city only lacks the desire to see it.

What about the airport commission’s threat to refuse extending the lease on the central part of the course when the lease expires next year? Well, that’s an interesting subject. When I first heard that idea floated a couple of years ago, I wrote to the airport commission and asked them why they were considering such drastic action. They told me that they wanted to keep the landing area secure and open, you know…9/11 and all that. The only other reason they gave me for non-renewal was that the trees in the landing corridor were too tall. In my mind, these were very weak reasons for such drastic action. First of all, the area in question is a golf course; a very open golf course through the landing corridor. That seems to me to work very well with a neighboring airport; a lot safer than a cluster of homes. As for the trees…why can’t the city top them or take them out altogether replacing them with lower growing vegetation? It seemed to me in that letter I received that the airport commission was taking a stand that seemed irrational, defensive, and angered; almost as if it were providing cover for some predetermined deal or agreement and knew that its argument was weak.

Finally, I have to say that the Countryside editorial in the RT really upset me. I have spent most of my life on and around Countryside (Arrowood). Growing up beside it was a joy. After college, I moved away for a few years, but when I returned to Roanoke, I moved back to within a mile of the course. I know the course intimately. I understand what it means to the community and what potential it has a recreation facility. The RT has chosen to label the opposition of people like me as “bellyaching.” I, however, prefer to call my opposition to the half-baked, vague plans that have been whispered as passionate advocacy.

In my opinion, the city has a gold mine. It doesn’t need to some monster retail/housing development. It needs a recreation facility, and the blueprints for it are already there. They need to open their ears to the community and their eyes to the possibilities.

Thom Ryder
North Lakes/Roanoke County
(Being a county resident does not discount my passion)

Posted By Valerie Garner

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