This article is the second of a three-part series regarding a proposed development project for the Evans Spring area, the largest remaining open space in the City of Roanoke. Pavilion Development Company, a Charlotte based real estate developer, has secured options on the land to create a mixed-use commercial/residential development west of the I-581 Interchange at Valley View and south of Hershberger Road. If approved by City Council, rezoning will significantly impact residents in Evans Spring and those in the adjacent neighborhoods of Fairland, Melrose-Rugby and Washington Park. Also potentially affected could be numerous commercial tenants located at Crossroads, Town Square, Valley View Mall and its outparcel stores and businesses and branded stores along Hershberger between Cove Road and I-581. Click here to read part one.
To understand how and why the three principal stakeholders involved in Evans Spring development – the city, the residents and the developer – are interacting with each other in the way they are, one must first understand what is involved in the statutory process the City of Roanoke uses to approve or reject amendments to its zoning regulations.
A zoning amendment is a legal change to the Official Zoning Map. In May 2017, the City published guidance regarding the Zoning Amendment Process in the form of an FAQ (frequently asked questions). You can find a copy of that guidance at https://tinyurl.com/rkezone.
Most of the land in Evans Spring is zoned agricultural. As such, any property owners (or developer) seeking change must first obtain approval from the city. Rezoning requests can be made by the property owner, an owner’s agent or a contracted purchaser – such as a developer – with the owner’s written consent.
During a recent community meeting open to the public, Pavilion Development Company announced it would file a rezoning request with the city by November. This action confirms that Pavilion Development has secured the written consent needed from Evans Spring property and homeowners to option the land; otherwise, they would not be unable to complete an application for zoning amendment.
The city manages rezoning requests through an application process that involves two public hearings. The first hearing, conducted by the Planning Commission, is held the second Monday of the month. Upon its conclusion, the commission votes to recommend approval or denial of the request before sending the application to City Council. The second hearing, conducted by City Council, occurs on the third Monday of the subsequent month. The final decision rests with council. State code requires the city to advertise the request in the local newspaper twice before each hearing. Roanoke advertises these requests in The Roanoke Times. Citizens interested in Evans Springs development should be on the lookout for such advertisements.
How and when zoning laws are made and amended can be a confusing. To better understand the process and how rezoning could potentially impact the Evans Spring area, advice from Bob Cowell, Roanoke’s City Manager, was solicited to help residents and citizens navigate the labyrinth.
Throughout a 50-minute, mid-July interview, Bob Cowell revealed himself to be a polished professional. There was not a hint of pretense or obfuscation.
Cowell identified three:
“Revenue is of importance to the city,” Cowell said, “but that must be balanced against the other three concerns I outlined.” He then stressed the importance of Roanoke’s village centers and the city’s desire to protect and/or reinvigorate those places.
Cowell suggested citizens get copies of all the information that has been filed related to the rezoning. He also encouraged citizens to compare and contrast the developer’s request with the Evans Spring Area Plan. (A copy of the plan can be found here www.roanokeva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1230/Evans-Spring) Additionally he said citizens need to identify the specific physical, geographic, street level concerns they have regarding the developer’s plan and how it affects them. “City officials are here to answer citizens’ questions and provide facts about the project,” Cowell said. “Elected officials are available to address any political concerns residents may have regarding the proposal.”
On August 28 and 29, George Sheild, Executive Vice President for Pavilion Properties, Jim Gamble, Senior Vice President for Development, led two community meetings at William Fleming High School to solicit public input regarding their conceptual design for Evans Spring. Their attorney, Maryellen Goodlatte, with Glenn Feldmann Darby & Goodlatte, Roanoke also participated to answer questions as needed. The developer voluntarily offered the sessions to gauge the community’s response in advance of submitting their application for rezoning.
Nearly 100 people attended. During his introduction, Sheild shared that Pavilion’s interest in Evans Spring was triggered by the completion of the expanded I-581 interchange at Valley View. Sometime during 2017, Pavilion initiated a process to secure options on the property including 11 homes on Top Hill Drive, the only residential-developed street in Evans Spring.
Gamble said the homeowners’ 2.1 acres comprised approximately 1.63 percent of the 128.52 acres earmarked for the project.
Some of the design features they promised included: to create pedestrian connectivity, meet or exceed existing stormwater management standards (e.g., water flow, volume and quality), preserve Lick Run, meet or exceed any tree planting requirements, expand available commercial options such as adding entertainment and find a new grocer to anchor the proposed village center.
Attendees were invited to give their feedback.
One by one, residents lined up in front of the microphone. A total of 40 people spoke across the two nights. And though the topics touched on matched the issues documented in the Evans Spring Area plan, an undercurrent of tension rippled through the audience whenever attendees felt speakers’ questions were not answered directly.
Anthony Peterson: “What’s the height of the (proposed) buildings?”
Pavilion: Scalability is a feature. Height will drop as we get closer to adjacent neighborhoods.
Darryl Burks expressed concerns regarding traffic, the timetable for development and Pavilion’s description of the residential units. “We are residents, not tenants,” he said.
Pavilion: We want to hear from everyone. Rezoning will run through the fourth quarter of 2019; 2020 will be for site plan approval.
Courtney Smith: “This neighborhood is primarily African American. What are you bringing that will benefit the African American community? Please consider affordable housing.”
Pavilion: Thank you. We hope commercial tenants will offer jobs to people in the neighborhood.
Pam Forest: “I live four houses from 19th Street. I don’t appreciate it being turned into a thoroughfare. Not enough people know about this.”
Pavilion: We’re glad you’re here. 19th Street will remain a city street. I’m not sure what you mean by thoroughfare.
Reggie Davis: “I’m a property owner on 19th Street. . . How I’m going to be impacted?”
Pavilion: We don’t have more specificity because we’re including you at the beginning. We still have to plan.
Brenda Allen: “I’m from Gainsboro. We know what happened there. I’m for progress . . . but it always seems like it’s at the cost of people of color. Where are the city reps? I fear the plan is to start with Evans Spring and come all the way down to Orange Avenue.”
Pavilion: Nothing’s going on. We’re just getting started. The city is here. When we have more to share, we will.
Several residents interviewed after the meeting expressed skepticism regarding Pavilion’s inability or unwillingness to answer questions more concretely. One of the chief concerns raised during and after the meeting was regarding changes to traffic patterns. How thorough would Pavilion’s proposed traffic study be if the developer doesn’t yet know the types and number of commercial tenants slated to occupy the development? Neither Pavilion Development Company representative agreed to be interviewed; they suggested early November would be a better time to speak publicly about their proposed design. Fortunately, Mark Jamison, Roanoke’s Manager of Transportation, was able to provide answers to some of the questions asked during the meeting.
“Our traffic study consists of three components: Trip Generation – where we use national standards to evaluate worst-case scenarios; Trip Distribution Analysis – where the city has no interest in lowballing traffic estimates; and Trip Improvement conclusions and recommendations.”
“How people choose to drive is all about perception,” Jamison said. “Is it quicker this way or that way?” He then retrieved a map of Northwest and traced possible driving routes residents from different neighborhoods might use to access I-581. In doing so, he theorized there may be less disruption to current driving patterns than residents fear. “Additional analysis is needed,” Jamison stressed. “It’s up to the residents. If they desire more vehicular points of access to the development beyond the interchange and 19th and Andrews, they must ask for it.” Otherwise, he said, city officials are limited in how they can intervene.
Reflecting on the accumulation of information gained through interviews with city officials, observations from the developer’s community meetings, the city’s statutory process for granting zoning amendments and the comments shared by 15 residents interviewed as background for this story, it is clear the principal stakeholders involved in Evans Spring development are triangulated from one another. Each expects some other stakeholder to mitigate, communicate and resolve their concerns, leaving all parties in a quagmire – wanting to act, but without a champion to defend or advocate for them. The city is concerned about process. The developer is concerned about their design, commercial tenants and its viability. Residents are concerned about the development’s potential encroachment on their way of life.
How can this stalemate be resolved?
Without intervention, residents’ frustration and possible distrust for city government may grow. This is not necessary. The introduction of a champion to herald the cause of Evans Spring development – negotiating concerns between the developer and the residents before the public hearings occur – could enable a project like this to be the win-win that the city needs. A request for interview was made to Mayor Sherman Lea to talk about Evans Spring. He declined the request stating he: “prefers not to comment at this time due to ongoing discussions between the developer and the northwest community.”
Links to other recent local articles about Evans Spring Area development:
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