July 8, 2008
The purchase of Countryside golf course several years ago and the ensuing discussions about its fate represent a lot of good and bad about Roanoke politics in my mind. The City of Roanoke’s Housing plan and initiatives, strongly led by our city manager, are bold and make a lot of sense to me. Roanoke is attempting to diversify its housing options and wherever possible mix in low income housing with other types of housing. The concept is not to isolate low income housing and not to just increase low income housing as the only growing housing option in our city. This does not mean low income housing is discouraged, quite the contrary- it will continue to be needed, just needs to be approached by developers in a different, more diverse manner.
Roanoke is land locked with very little developable land left in our 43 square mile territory. The concept behind the Countryside purchase (before my time on council) was to obtain land that could then be used to increase our housing stock- especially for middle income range housing but to also have diversity of housing options within the development. Request for Proposals (RFPs) were announced. Initially, there was a lot of interest. Then there was only one potential taker but as that developer tried to make the project work financially, the project changed in scope. Additional land purchases were required, it became more commercial with more rental units and really not at all in keeping with the original intent. Ultimately, the project for this developer could not go forward. There has been little to no interest since then. Roanoke has continued to hire the current golf course management company for one more year.
This “additional year” is quickly coming to a close and council has asked the city administration to prepare a briefing on viable near term and long term options for this beautiful piece of property. The briefing has properly been delayed until new council members come on board. The briefing will occur in August- probably at our first meeting of the month on August 4th..
There are countless possibilities for this property. In my opinion, we appropriately tested the market for a large housing complex and it didn’t work. Maybe, in hindsight, we shouldn’t have bought the property- though it is a great piece of land and who knows what would happen to it if we didn’t buy it.
As you have hopefully read in my other postings- I believe quality of life amenities are key to our economic future. Therefore, I like many of the possible future uses for this property that are consistent with this strategy. Certainly at this point, I support keeping the attractive 18 hole course and would strongly consider management options that may help it be more profitable while providing solid maintenance and upkeep. Perhaps the course can become an incentive for those who live in the city- reduced fees, certain number of free fees, etc. Other short term options may be an athletic field complex. Much of the area could remain green with greenway additions. Some of the land is very suitable for housing projects while keeping the course- perhaps one house at a time in this economy. Some of the land that abuts I-581 and private property is ripe for commercial development especially if the Valley View interchange is improved. Longer term options could include improved indoor tennis facilities and a much needed competitive aquatic center for our region.
The good about all this is the City of Roanoke made a bold decision, stuck with a housing plan, tested the market and now most consider different options- one of which, of course, could be to just sell the property as is without any constraints. We are now faced with a different set of possible uses- some of which may be better than the original intent. The bad in my mind is that this discussion has been going on far too long and has impacted those who live in the area and have lived with uncertainty for many years. One worry, historically based, is that with long discussions and debates the bold option gets whittled to a mediocre option not at all in keeping with original intent and thus doomed for failure. Lets hope this summer and fall, Roanoke City Council can enter into good and meaningful discussions with public input but reach a decision for this property in a timely manner with clear, bold short term and long term plans that will improve the economic vitality for Roanoke for many years to come. We need to develop a strategic plan for the area that takes us many years down the road.
The decision is coming, so help out—-What are your thoughts???