After nearly three hours of presentation and public comment, the Blacksburg Planning Commission was unable to come to a consensus on the request for rezoning of six acres on Airport Road submitted by the Lester Group proposing a luxury aging-in-place development beside Margaret Beeks Elementary School.
The process to rezone the property from R-4 (four houses per acre) to PR (planned residential) has, since late last year, been met with strenuous opposition from the surrounding communities.
The developer proposes rezoning the land at 801 and 803 Airport Road with nine buildings, including single-family homes, a duplex and multi-family homes all facing a common greenspace with shared driveway access off Fairview Avenue.
During the standing-room-only Planning Commission public hearing Tuesday night, the developers presented proffers including aging-in-place criteria, a paved path leading to the back of the Kroger, placing the single-family houses such that they are on the Airport Road end of the oval-shaped development and a deeper offset.
Aging-in-place criteria were described as requiring one resident being 55-years-old or older and a spouse 50-55, and that younger people could reside temporarily, with provision for disabled relatives under 55 residing permanently.
“We bought our property knowing —and being comfortable with—whatever could be built under R4 zoning,” wrote neighbor Jane Machin in an email.
Machin presented a rousing PowerPoint at the meeting inspiring one of the several flurries of quickly-squelched applause.
Planned Residential is the concept in which the applicant has more flexibility to propose district standards and set backs and parking ratios, but, in exchange, is bound by what is shown during the public hearing in the proffer statement. R-4 is residential zoning allowing four structures per acre, without public hearing.
Nearly 30 people spoke against the rezoning filling the council chambers, sitting on the floor and standing in the back many wearing red, scarves, sweaters, hats, spilling out to watch the proceedings on the television in the lobby.
Three people spoke in support of the rezoning citing the dearth of aging-in-place housing in Blacksburg.
Over two hours neighbors, young and old, questioned whether large multi-story buildings are truly appropriate as aging-in-place homes.
They pointed out that the $500,000 and up price tags do not address the town’s woeful affordable housing needs, that 3000 square feet is not a retirement home, and that the scale and architecture of the development are not in keeping with the town’s comprehensive plan that in-fill must “support the character of the neighborhood.”
Dr. Warren Hardy, a Virginia Tech transportation researcher who spoke, pled for affordable housing. He introduced himself as a “senior,” according to the criteria of the developer, who is currently comfortably aging in place in Airport Acres at a price much lower than $700, 000.
“I’m not against aging-in-place, I’m doing it now,” he said.
Recounting his inability to lure qualified people to perform highly skilled work because Blacksburg housing is unaffordable, he asked the planning commission to be mindful of the need.
Many agreed the development was “a good idea,” but is in the wrong place.
“I’ll be 80 next month. I think this is a lovely idea, but not the right spot,” said Phyllis Albritton.
In addition to intangibilities of community and home, neighbors immediately proximal to the proposed development expressed concern they would be surrounded on three sides by roads.
“We would be on a peninsula,” Betsy Humphrey said and voiced concerns of housing value.
Following the more than two-hours of public comment, Lester Group Vice President Donna Morrison reiterated the developer’s proffers and intimated that without the zoning change, the Lester Group would be unencumbered by community demands or comprehensive plan requirements.
“If only single family housing is allowed on the site, there would be no need for an aging-in place requirement,” she said.
In the end, the commission split 2 to 2 with the new commission members, Tim Colley and Jack Davis abstaining.
This tie goes forward as “no recommendation” from the Planning Commission to the Town Council, which is expected to schedule its public hearing on the matter for March 13.