BLACKSBURG — Apartment buildings finished not too long ago can be seen in the distance beyond the hills and trees that make up the undeveloped farmland sitting directly behind a row of homes on Village Way South.
Guy Acciai, who lives in that area, said he and his neighbors aren’t against development. He even concedes the farmland will get developed, one way or another. The issue, he said, is bringing in a level of density that he fears will negatively impact his neighborhood.
“You’re packing too much stuff into too little space,” Acciai said.
Blacksburg town staff, along with the council’s advisory board, are currently going over a proposal from developer Cary Hopper to build 176 single-family homes on the vacant farmland. The formal address for the project called Glade Spring Crossing is 1006 Glade Road.
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One notable aspect of the project is the inclusion of 24 affordable housing units that will, through the town, receive $2 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds if a rezoning for the development is approved.
Those federal funds need to be spent by 2026, said Matt Hanratty, asssitant town manager.
Additionally, the lots for the affordable housing units included in Glade Spring will be part of the New River Home Trust, a partnership-based entity that was started to improve local housing affordability.
A trust places a cap on how much a home within the program can appreciate. Instead of relying on typical factors such as sales of similar properties and current market trends, the value would be based on income growth in the area.
For his development to go through as proposed, Hopper is asking the town to move nearly 45 acres of land from a rural residential to a planned residential district. It is not uncommon for developers to seek the planned residential zoning, which provides greater freedom with density.
Acciai and other neighbors, however, fear the proposed Glade Spring density is too much for the neighborhood and will lead to issues with traffic and safety. They said both children and adults are often on Village Way South and they anticipate that the neighborhood will be used as a quicker cut-through to the U.S. 460 bypass or the nearby Kroger grocery store on University City Boulevard.
“People use this street as a walkway,” neighborhood resident Traci Sterling said about Village Way South.
Sterling, who is closely following the town’s review of the development, has provided a number of documents related to the project. Among them is a January correspondence packet from the Tom’s Creek Sustainability Coalition, which has raised fears about the development not being environmentally sustainable for the well-known creek and watershed from which the group takes its name.
The Tom’s Creek group listed several primary issues it has identified. Among them is a need to curb environmental stressors on a waterway they say is already considered at risk. They said the development would unnecessarily increase that environmental stress on the creek.
One of the more specific issues the group raises is how the most upstream 6.1 miles of the creek has been listed as impaired in a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality report from last year. The issue, they said, is due to violations of the bacteria and temperature water quality standards.
“The upper reaches of Tom’s Creek are classified as 5A waters, meaning a stockable trout stream,” the Tom’s Creek group wrote. “Because trout are cold-water fish, the state water quality standards require instantaneous water temperature not to exceed 21 degrees Celsius. Levels of bacteria—E. coli—in the creek also already exceed DEQ standards, likely resulting from livestock access and failing septic systems with the Tom’s Creek stream network.”
The concerns over Glade Spring bear some similarities to a debate over another project from last year, Legacy on Main.
Legacy, the rezoning of which town council ended up approving, is an affordable housing development that calls for a 56-unit apartment building that will use low-income housing tax credits.
Despite the affordable housing benefits, the Legacy project turned into one of the town’s most hotly debated land issues in some years due to many neighbors’ concerns over the development’s density.
Similar to the Legacy discussions, neighbors following the Glade Spring talks clarified that they do not, at all, oppose affordable housing—something they agree is desperately needed in a town that’s received scrutiny for being one of the costliest real estate markets in Southwest Virginia.
Sterling said they support providing affordable housing in that area, but wished Glade Spring would fit that component within the parameters of the current rural residential zoning.
Rural Residential 1, the specific title of the district the farmland is currently in, allows a maximum density of one dwelling unit per acre. Neighborhood residents said that means the development would be limited to just over 40 total units if it was built under the current zoning. That by-right density, they said, is far less than what is being proposed.
“As a group, we all have several concerns, but none of them are regarding the need for affordable units in Blacksburg. As a matter of fact, we welcome them with open arms,” Sterling wrote in an email.
She said the concerns, depending on the resident, generally fall under three categories: the density, the impact on the Tom’s Creek basin and the addition of a road that would connect Village Way South to Glade Spring.
Mike Stein lives on Village Way South where he said he would be right next door to the connector road. He said he’s concerned that the road would either come up on his property or not include sidewalks.
“I don’t think it’s right they say, ‘hey, we’re going to come on your property and put it here,’” said Stein, who also voiced concerns due to his kids often playing outside. “There’s a whole bunch of wrong with it. The town doesn’t seem to care whether or not it’s safe. Their only reasoning for having the road is connectivity. I get the connectivity, but they’re putting connectivity at the cost of safety.”
An idea Stein said he’s suggested is scrapping the current connector road location and instead move it to the east end of the development where the plan calls for a cul-de-sac. He said that could be turned into a through road.
“You still have the connectivity; it just costs more money. I think that’s worth a kid’s life,” Stein said.
Meredith Jones, vice president of engineering services firm Eden & Associates, P.C., submitted the rezoning application on behalf of Hopper. She said they are aware of the residents’ concerns over traffic.
Jones said the town requires connectivity for the project, specifically at the Village at Tom’s Creek location. She said years ago during the Village’s development a right-of-way was set aside for connection to the property for Glade Spring.
“It is a requirement, so our plan is showing the connection,” Jones wrote in an email.
The plan, however, is to fit the road in the right-of-way the town owns and that they don’t need an easement for the connector, Jones said.
Jones provided some traffic projections regarding the nearby Village at Tom’s Creek and how residents will choose to use the proposed neighborhood as quicker access to their destinations in town.
“That is typically the point of interconnectivity: to reduce vehicle travel miles and get people closer to their destinations to avoid circuitous routes,” she wrote. “Of course, we understand that has an impact on a neighborhood that is not used to seeing that extra traffic. Everyone reacts differently to the issues of development and they have the right to give input through the public process.”
Jones also addressed some environmental aspects.
“Chronic flooding through this property and downstream has prompted us to provide regional stormwater management for quality and quantity,” she wrote. “We will go beyond our requirements for the development to reduce stream channel erosion and flooding that has plagued the tributaries through and below this property for years.”
Then, Jones spoke on the affordable housing component, which she said addresses a need in Blacksburg where there has been a lack of available housing for those who earn low to middle incomes. She said Glade Spring will set a national example on how public and private alliances can begin solving the affordable and critical workforce housing crisis.
Of the 24 affordable units, 10 will be sold to households with incomes at no more than 80% of the area median income; another 10 will be sold to households with incomes at no more than 100% of the AMI; and four will be sold to households with incomes at no more than 120% of the AMI, according to project documents.
A town Planning Commission public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the municipal building at 300 S. Main St.