Knowing that Virginia Tech is expecting 5,000 new undergraduate students by 2022, Blacksburg approached existing student housing developments to see if they were interested in denser redevelopment.
Blacksburg, like other growing small towns, reasons that the denser redevelopment of existing housing where utility and transportation infrastructure already exist reduces sprawl and its accompanying social and fiscal expense and protects green space. Now, that ratcheting up of density is coming to pass.
In May, Terrace View Apartments, a 13-acre cluster of low-rise townhome apartments at the intersection of busy Patrick Henry and Tom’s Creek Road, submitted a proposal to knock down its 16 buildings that house 198 units and 533 bedrooms and replace them with two, multi-story buildings: Building West with 263 units with 818 bedrooms, and Building East with 233 units with 703 bedrooms.
Each building would wrap around a parking deck. There would be bicycle racks and a small commercial space, attractive landscaping, walkability and public transit access.
Last week, Blacksburg Town Council approved the site’s dense redevelopment, but, in discussion before the vote, several council members voiced their hopes and concerns as the town plans for and responds to a population expansion, driven by university expansion, they cannot control.
Vice Mayor Susan Anderson cited the density as a strategy to protect quality of life of students and Blacksburg communities.
“If we don’t allow denser development knowing the huge increase in student enrollment and knowing VT will not build beds for all of them, I’m afraid that some of our residents would experience great overcrowding in their neighborhoods,” she said. “People who can’t afford cars trying to stuff into somebody’s larger closets. Students want to live near downtown with housing on bus routes. I think is really is important.”
She pointed out that Blacksburg Transit is introducing double-buses to reduce stress on public transportation in the busy Tom’s Creek area responding to traffic concerns voiced by homeowners in the run up to this vote.
Michael Sutphin called the project “innovative,” “thoughtful” and “not cookie-cutter,” wrapping the living space around the parking structure.
“That’s not something we’ve seen at all in Blacksburg,” he said.
But Councilwoman Susan Mattingly expressed that VT should join the town in taking responsibility for the housing of its students.
“I would like to see Virginia Tech build more student housing, because that puts us, this body, in a reactive position to try to deal with the influx of students, which is really just beginning and the best we can do is try to mitigate some of those impacts. The fact is there is no part of town that will not be impacted.”
John Bush disagreed that the town’s approach is merely reactive to VT’s expansion, but wondered aloud about what the limit of density might be.
“We planned that [density increase] as we knew that growth is coming. But I am concerned about traffic on Tom’s Creek and where Gilbert Linkous is and coming down Patrick Henry toward Main Street.”
He hoped there would be police presence to reduce speeding.
“This is the densest project I think we’ve ever approved. That gives me some pause,” he said. It’s not just dense, it’s almost double the density. That makes me a little concerned about what we’re bringing forth as a precedence, but we have to do some things some times that we have mixed feelings about.”
The planned development also contains amenities including clubhouses, fitness centers, cafés, study areas, outdoor amenities, and a “a small commercial work space.”
The proposal was approved unanimously.