As a developer, I am pro-economic development and recognize the need for more residential properties in Roanoke.
But as someone who is also a civil engineer experienced in site planning, traffic, grading, water quality and stormwater management, I must oppose Robert Fralin’s plans to rezone his 8-acre site on Brandon Avenue along Murray Run to accommodate a development of 54 apartments and 15 town houses. Here are six reasons to do so:
1. Traffic congestion. Brandon Avenue is one of the busiest and most accident prone streets in Roanoke. The intersection of Main and Brandon in particular is a hazardous stretch of roadway. This stretch of Brandon has experienced 182 crashes since 2013. Adding two more entrances/exits at the Brandon and Main intersection to serve this development will create an even more hazardous intersection. Additionally the current conditions at this intersection will not allow for any left hand turns out of the proposed development.
2. Lot sizes. The current zoning of R-7 requires a frontage of 60 feet minimum. Using the existing road frontage of around 750 feet would allow for at most 12 individual homes, a far cry from the 69 dwellings projected under the rezoning proposal. Proposed development in the current R-7 zoning would be much more in keeping with the surrounding neighborhoods.
3. Healthy communities. “Every neighborhood should be an active participant in determining its future,” states Roanoke’s comprehensive plan, and “involve neighborhood organizations, civic groups, and businesses in the development and implementation of neighborhood plans.” Given the nearly unanimous opposition from neighboring homeowners and businesses when the plan was first submitted in 2017 — including a petition of 500 citizens plus four surrounding Neighborhood Associations and the Neighborhood President’s Council — this revised proposal, which only exacerbates the situation, should be rejected as well.
4. Stormwater management. Neither is being addressed in the rezoning proposal, but this development absolutely maximizes the area between Murray Run and Brandon Avenue, with parking lots jammed up against the apartments and parking lots taken very close to the creek. When parking and building coverage is maximized, little land is left for rain gardens, detention areas, vegetative swales, etc., for control of water quality and quantity.
5. Flooding. This is already an area prone to flooding and the proposed development will be building parking lots, stream crossings and other development amenities within the flood plain and flood way, exasperating an already preexisting condition. Furthermore, some of Murray Run is already part of Roanoke’s excellent greenway system and outdoor recreational opportunities in which the city has invested heavily in recent years and this portion of Murray Run is one of the potential routes.
6. Environmental protection. Murry Run is an impaired stream as defined by Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. Since this proposed project would disturb more than one acre, the stream and wetland areas will need to be protected per DEQ requirements. One such protection is a riparian buffer, but the current site plan shows a good portion of the riparian buffer as the paved parking lot for the apartments. A 50 foot riparian buffer is the requirement and that distance should not be lessened for this development.
There is a reason this site has remained undeveloped for decades: it is situated in an area already suffering from traffic congestion and prone to flooding and water quality degradation. There are many acceptable sites for apartment development in Roanoke, but this is not one of them. Single family is the correct zoning, which also keeps protected the natural setting of Murray Run.
John Garland is a former member of the Roanoke City Council.