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Affordable housing development proposed just off South Main in Blacksburg

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BLACKSBURG — Nonprofit Community Housing Partners is proposing an affordable housing development in a section of town that is concentrated with retailers and dining establishments.

Called Legacy on South Main, the proposed project calls for a single apartment building comprised of 56 units, according to CHP. The multifamily development would use low-income housing tax credits “to ensure long-term affordability for residents for at least 30 years,” according to a short description of the project on the town’s website.

The development would occupy just under 3 acres of land at 100 Country Club Drive SE, a parcel that is located across the road from a shopping center that includes a Kroger and just north of another property that is home to a number of eateries.

“I am proud that we are planning to support the affordable housing need in Blacksburg by creating 56 new apartments for families to be able to afford to live and work in our beautiful town,” Janaka Casper, CEO of CHP, wrote in a statement. “The building will be thoughtfully designed using sustainable construction practices and energy efficiency measures. The community will benefit from the open space and the amenities to include a playground and picnic area.”

Projects such as Legacy on South Main are desperately needed in the town, said Matt Hanratty, assistant to the Blacksburg town manager and who was at the recent neighborhood meeting on the proposed development.

A housing study performed by the New River Valley Regional Commission found that affordable housing in Blacksburg is difficult to find for families who earn less than $88,000 a year, Hanratty said. Affordable housing is where no more than 30% of gross income goes toward housing costs and utilities, he said.

The housing cost issue in town has made homes almost out of reach for certain groups of workers, including skilled laborers, Hanratty said. Those workers include retail and service workers, police officers, administrative assistants and teachers, he said.

“There are a lot of folks who can’t afford to live in our community,” Hanratty said.

Yet, one concern raised by respondents in Blacksburg’s own study on the issue is that the town appears to have become less inclusive and diverse when it comes to housing, Hanratty said.

To go through, however, the development requires a rezoning of the project’s land from a so-called “R-5 transitional residential” district to planned residential, a zone residential developers often seek to gain greater flexibility with density.

The R-5 zone allows multifamily developments with the obtainment of a town-approved conditional use permit, but the district caps its maximum density at 20 bedrooms per acre.

Additionally, the town’s future land use designation for the property is the so-called medium density residential, which allows up to 20 bedrooms per acre, according to the project’s page on Blacksburg’s website.

“This proposed project represents an increase over the residential density envisioned in the future land use designation,” reads the town’s website.

The Legacy on South Main project proposes a total of 142 bedrooms, or just under 52 bedrooms per acre.

The development would also require the demolition of the single-family house currently on the property and proposes a parking ratio of .85 space per bedroom.

The rezoning sought by the project still needs to clear several steps before it formally comes before town council for approval. Those steps include reviews by the planning commission.

The town hosted a neighborhood meeting on the project earlier this month to allow the developers to provide an overview of the project to local residents. Responses to the project at that meeting were mixed, with traffic being one concern.

Casper addressed some of the recent resident feedback.

“I know that as with any new development in Blacksburg, change can cause strong emotions with a lot of questions about what’s going into the community, how it will affect the neighborhood, how it fits within the comprehensive plan and what community needs are being met by the development,” he wrote. “We hope that the public process will help clarify and answer many of these questions.”

Regarding the many residents who recently voiced opposition to the proposed development, Hanratty said there were some valid concerns. He said residential projects often draw concerns among those who live in the neighborhood those developments are being proposed for.

Hanratty, however, said there does appear to be a “disconnect” among several residents over some of the facts of the project itself and its overall purpose. He said one key way to address that issue is ramping up education efforts on what the project is truly trying to accomplish.

The project also comes as Blacksburg is looking at ways to improve affordability in a town that carries the reputation as being one of the costlier places to live in Southwest Virginia. Town officials have acknowledged over the past several months that the issue of affordability has become even more pressing as the locality has not been spared of the effects of the housing boom that started during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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