Roanoke City Council met August 4 in an information session on Countryside at City Hall. The session began around 11:15 and lasted for about two hours. During that time the full council was briefed in depth by Brian Townsend before giving way to a question/answer time.
Much of Townsend’s briefing was geared to providing the new council members; Rosen, Price, Bowers, and Nash; and opportunity to become familiar with the history of the Countryside purchase and development plans by the City.
Much of the briefing centered on how the airport impacts the club. With a significant chunk of land leased to the city by the airport commission and with that lease due to expire in mid November, the city will need to renegotiate the lease for golf to continue. In addition, the airport commission wishes to widen the Runway Protection Zone (RPZ). To accomplish that goal, a land swap is being proposed that will swap two tracts on either side of Ranch Road for land on either side of the current RPZ. The parcels offered by the Airport Commission for the swap have been altered from the original proposal, however. No doubt Valerie will go back and tweak her now famous RPZ image to illustrate the current swap proposal. Townsend stated the reason for the change was due to the overall value of the property being taken by the airport commission not matching the value of the property the airport commission was giving to the city (at least that’s the way I understood what he was saying.)
Part of the informational briefing centered on the current state of the golf facility. Townsend informed the council that Meadowbrook currently pays $17,500 for the lease to operate the course. The annual debt service for FY 2009 is just over $470,000. Meadowbrook reported $87,500 in profit in 2005, $79,800 in 2006, and $43,200 in 2007.
Townsend also covered the short-term capital improvement needs for Countryside:
-$25,000 for paving paths near tees and greens/returning rest to grass
-$180,000 for full replacement
-$100,000 for repairs
-$700,000 for full replacement
Burcham and Townsend then presented their two basic recommendations:
1. Short Term Golf Course Agreements
-Extend limited lease agreements with a management group for five years
-Finalize Land swap and Lease Extensions
-Limited capital improvements
-Identify additional redevelopment ideas (may still develop at a later date)
2. “Golf Course Stewardship” Long Term Golf Commitment
-Finalize land swap and lease renewal with Airport Commission
-RFP operation and management lease
-Feasibility Study for golf operation
-Invest in the capital improvement plan
The discussion was focused and productive. Most council members stated their support for maintaining the golf course. The real debate seemed to be centered on the airport lease. Here comes the chicken and egg part. Dr. Trinkle and Mrs. Mason were especially focused on the upcoming possible lease extension by the airport commission. The question is will the airport commission extend the lease so that the city can then commit to golf or does the city need to commit to golf so that that airport commission will extend the lease? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Mr. Nash and Dr. Trinkle also broached the subject of a permanent commitment to golf. One thing that our organization hopes to avoid is another round of development roulette five years down the road when the housing market looks sunnier. We want a firm commitment to support fully Countryside Golf Course. One way to demonstrate that is by seeking a long-term lease with the airport commission. If the airport commission were to commit to a long-term lease (ten years or longer) where the city guaranteed that the land would remain a golf course, then the airport commission could be assured of having a low-density acceptable use of the property.
Mayor Bowers made several comments that cheered us. He stated that he didn’t want this process to drag out. He wants citizens to be heard in the matter and then a firm time window of no more than a year established to iron out the details of the city’s course of action. Of course, with both the Meadowbrook lease and airport commission lease all coming due in October/November, that time table will need to be pushed up even more.
Mayor Bowers also stated that Roanokers tell him that they are “…green with envy…” over Salem’s commitment to parks and recreation facilities. He maintained that Countryside is an ideal location to develop our own recreation facility with tennis and competitive swimming components.
Court Rosen and Anita Price did a lot of listening, but Rosen did state that the city can make Countryside Golf Course are real amenity. He mentioned that thinking out of the box on how to utilize the assets of the course is important. He gave for example, the idea that memberships may be offered to employees to businesses that choose to locate in the city.
Anita Price quietly made the powerful point that the city and Meadowbrook need to be doing more to market and publicize the course. She pointed out that the visitor brochure produced by the Roanoke Valley Convention and Visitor’s Bureau does not list Countryside in the golf listings. Other public courses are listed, but not the city’s course. Several phone books serve the valley. Interestingly, if you want to look up Countryside in the yellow pages of the Verizon phone book (the largest and arguably most popular), you won’t find it listed at all. It does appear in the “Yellow Book” with an attractive quarter page ad.
Mr. Lea restated his long-standing support for the 18 hole golf course. Like the other council members, he stated a desire to meet with the airport commission.
Dr. Trinkle, in addition to his other comments, stated that he wants the city to commit to five to ten years of being good stewards of the golf course. He also wants to hear from the public about how the facility can benefit the community and schools.
Mrs. Burcham began to wind down the meeting by stressing that the staff would like to put forth an RFP for a 5-year lease to run the golf course facility. She stated that the council and staff would need to define expenses and responsibilities before entering into the lease agreement.
At that point, the discussion became a little murky and difficult to follow. We weren’t sure exactly what will be brought before the council in terms of RFP’s at future meetings. However, we believe that Council directed staff to bring an RFP proposal with at least a five year lease built in back to them. It also appeared that some council members directed the staff to negotiate with Meadowbrook for a long-term commitment; however, that negotiation may be handled through the RFP process. (The council members sat with their backs to the public and there were no microphones, so it was sometimes difficult to hear comments and read body language.)
Countryside Neighborhood Alliance had a strong showing with many of our friends present. In addition, representatives from the golf course attended.
The session produced news of an upcoming meeting with the airport commission to discuss several issues. Perhaps the lease extension and land swap will come up. This meeting will take place on September 2 at noon. We didn’t catch the location.
Overall, we were very pleased with the tone and seriousness of the discussions. The council members were civil to and respectful of the public and each other. They discussed, unrelated to Countryside, having a retreat at a local venue (most likely the city owned Apple Ridge Farm) to discuss issues and set goals and priorities. If the chickens can be hatched, Countryside Golf Course may have a bright future.
Posted By Valerie Garner