Hundreds turn out to oppose Shenandoah Life development project

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - People living in Raleigh Court turned out by the hundreds Thursday night to oppose proposed construction in their neighborhood.

The developer Berkely Hall, LLC is proposing eight new apartment buildings to go in the woods surrounding the old Shenandoah Life building.

They want to have a conversation with Carilion, which owns the land, and the developer about finding a way to preserve what many people have come to treat as a park.

Those 17 acres of woods were even labeled that way in the city's plan for the area back in 2005.

The problem is that it's still private land, and a deal is already in the works that these neighbors just became aware of last month.

Hundreds came out to Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church Thursday, many signing a petition as they walked in to oppose the new development.

One of those was Frank Rogan, who worries about the traffic eight new buildings would bring.

"It's a really residential neighborhood right now. it's a very quiet neighborhood. so with 224 units coming in, especially around rush hour, we'd have a busy little neighborhood there," said Rogan.

In addition, Rogan's house backs up to the woods, and losing that is a concern.

"I'm not really sure what this is going to do to our property value. the thinking is that it will go down," said Rogan.

Many Thursday appealed to Assistant City Manager Brian Townsend to honor the neighborhood plan developed in 2005.

He says, it's not that easy.

"While the neighborhood plan speaks in the future aspirationally of certain things in the future, those are only triggered when someone requests, or there is a changed proposed in the existing zoning, which is not the case with the Shenandoah Life property," said Townsend.

He says the only option is if Carilion or the developer want to change course.

Raleigh Court Neighborhood Association President Dr. Susan Marney says that's something that needs to be discussed.

"I think that there is some hope that maybe, at some point, we might be able to sit down with Carilion and talk about some alternatives," said Marney.

Alternatives, like a land conservation easement, an idea brought up at the meeting that could offer Carilion tax credits instead.

"That would limit development that's allowed on the property. it could also provide for public access, which would make it easier for people to walk the trails," said Megan Cupka, a representative from Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.

That's a hopeful idea for Rogan, who says he would be happy to even just see a reduction in buildings.

"I understand that development will happen. we just want to make sure that we do things in a reasonable way," said Rogan.

Both Carilion and the developer were invited to the meeting, but neither showed.

The developer said in a statement read by Marney at the meeting "Due to the aggressive and close-minded tone that was taken to us at the last meeting, we don't feel that would be constructive."

The Grandin Court Neighborhood Association, which would also be affected by the development, will be hosting its meeting next Tuesday.