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Duerk: Decision-making in Roanoke

Duerk: Decision-making in Roanoke

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By Barbara N. Duerk

Duerk is coordinator of CONNECT NOW, a group that advocates for on-road corridors and off-road trails and greenways, promotes ADA accessibility, safe routes to schools and walking and bicycling as healthy transportation alternatives.

Roanoke City has decided not to appeal the recent decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals denying the Greater Roanoke Transit Company, GRTC, request to locate a transit terminal in an historic district. Council probably calculated they would lose. Now Council has decided to change the zoning ordinance so the development can bypass the BZA.

I am Barbara Duerk, and I am Roanoke Proud. Well, I WAS. Why would Roanoke make deals and use land swaps for under the table economic development? Quoting from the Roanoke Times, “GRTC, Roanoke City and [Lucas] Thornton’s company, Hist: Re LLC is part of a three-way deal.” The Woody Parking Lot, Campbell Court and the old Chaney-Thomas Insurance building on Jefferson are being swapped. There will be no request for proposals.

I was at the January, 2019 meeting of council that approved this three-way deal. I wondered why Court Rosen and Thornton were at the City Council meeting. Council approved an agreement that was still being copied by staff and handed to them for a vote. Which they approved.

Let’s talk money. Cost was brought up at the BZA meeting by Maynard Keller, a Certified Financial Planner and President of American Financial Planning. He said, “Roanoke city paid $2.19 million for a parking lot appraised at $1.6M. City Council was told that the Federal Transit Authority would pay for 80% of the $10M cost. Because the bus station is in an historic district, they might only pay $2M. Roanoke taxpayers might need to pay the difference. “Roanoke City also agreed to pay $5.8 M to Lucas Thornton, Hist: ReLLC to redevelop the bus station at Campbell Court.”

Keller also mentioned that Lucas Thornton made contributions to Mayor Lea’s and Trish White-Boyd’s reelection campaign.

City Council blames Lampros for refusing to sell the parking lot adjacent to the AMTRAK boarding area. What is the accessed value of the property? What is the price Lampros is asking the city to pay? Taxpayers need to ask Lampros and the city what a deal breaker would look like?

Roanokers, we need to address the hippopotamus in the room. We need to talk about why Roanoke businesses and downtown residents want the bus station moved out of the urban area. Why do you not ride the bus? Are your answers reasons or excuses? Be honest. Do you even know where the public transit is near where you reside?

The community conversation needs to occur about Roanoke’s Transportation Hub. How bad can it get? Roanoke buses are still using diesel fuel. Valley Metro hours of operation prevent shift workers from using transit because they do not run on Saturday or Sunday or later in the evening. The residents of the Roanoke Valley deserve better.

“City Manager, Bob Cowell stated that these (changes in the zoning ordinance) amendments will allow the City and GRTC to evaluate all potential sites, including the Brandon Lot, for the new transit station facility.”

Changing the way we think about transit is a MUST. Requiring Valley Metro to redesign their plan of service is a MUST. Seamless transportation is a MUST. Roanoke needs to vision a seamless transportation HUB that serves the people of SW Virginia. The HUB design should include a medical clinic, child care, social services, a grocery store, restaurant, drug store, tourist information and a money exchange. Visitors and residents would experience an easy transfer between shared ride vans, trolley, light rail, train, bicycle, scooter, walking connections and airport shuttles.

Roanoke does need to upgrade our “cool.” Let’s make “cool” happen.

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