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Roanoke County board to vote on 20-year economic development plan for Hollins area

Roanoke County board to vote on 20-year economic development plan for Hollins area

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Roanoke County is crafting big plans for the Hollins area in a new 20-year plan that will prioritize traffic, pedestrian and community facility improvements.

County staff spent two years preparing a master plan for economic development in the area. The board of supervisors will hold a public hearing on the finalized plan at 7 p.m. Tuesday and then vote to incorporate it into the county’s comprehensive plan. The board will meet at the Roanoke County Administration Center, 5204 Bernard Drive, and the meeting can be watched on Roanoke Valley Television (RVTV3) or online at www.roanokecountyva.gov.

After adoption, the board and county staff will start to implement the plan’s recommendations, which include pursuing mixed -use developments, improving traffic flow, rebuilding the Hollins library and expanding pedestrian and bike access.

The county chose Hollins as a study area because of its proximity to Interstate 81 and Hollins University that make it a major corridor for residents and visitors. The area has the highest concentration of employment and the most visited community spaces in the county. More than 35% is agricultural or vacant land and nearly 30% is commercial, which creates an ideal opportunity for expansion and development, planning director Philip Thompson said.

The county mailed postcards to residents in the area, conducted an online survey, held community meetings and spoke with more than 130 businesses to develop priorities and ideas for the plan.

Thompson said most people wanted road improvements, more places to gather and the ability to walk or bike from their neighborhoods to commercial and community spaces.

“And for people who stay at the hotels, it’d be nice for them to be able to walk to a restaurant,” Thompson said.

The plan recommends constructing sidewalk and bike lanes on Peters Creek Road from Williamson Road to Barrens Road. It also recommends building pedestrian accommodations on Williamson Road and Walrond Drive to safely connect different areas of Hollins.

Some pedestrian and road improvements already are underway, and the county plans to leverage as much state and federal funding as possible to complete the rest. The timeline on each project depends on grant applications and other financial opportunities.

“These are all visions,” Hollins District Supervisor Phil North said. “At the end of the day, the funding and community engagement you get in the first 10 years dictates what happens in the next 10.”

The plan also recommends rebuilding the Hollins Branch Library in a more central location or rebuilding and modernizing the library at its current location.

The Hollins branch averages 600 visitors a day and is the second busiest in the Roanoke Valley system, which includes Roanoke County, Roanoke, Botetourt County and Salem. The library reached its capacity in 2018, which means it cannot increase its visitors or circulation without a larger and more modern building.

The Hollins Fire and Rescue Station faces a similar issue. The station was the third busiest station by incident in Roanoke County for fiscal year 2018. The station does not have the capacity to grow, so future economic development could present a challenge. The station responds to a variety of service calls that involve industrial, residential or commercial issues, as well as accidents on nearby I-81.

The plan recommends the station be relocated to an area that can optimize its response times.

Overall, the plan aims to make Hollins a destination, Thompson said. The county plans to pursue collaborations with developers who want to create mixed-use areas for residents and visitors. Landscaping, lighting and safety will be the biggest priorities as the county pursues these opportunities to improve not just the Hollins area, but the region.

“This is really a 20-year vision where we focus on concrete actions in the first 10,” Thompson said. “We prioritize the projects, take what funding is available and determine what needs the county has inside and outside the area.”

The full Hollins area plan can be viewed at roanokecountyva.gov/1831/Hollins-Center-Plan. The board will take public comments on the plan at its meeting Tuesday.

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Alison Graham covers Roanoke County and Salem news. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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