ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke City Council voted unanimously on an effort to extend the Roanoke River Greenway, potentially through eminent domain. Council has authorized staff to seize the land in dispute from the company that owns it, Walker Foundry, if a deal can't be reached.
The debate over the extension of the Greenway near Bridge Street has been going for years, with the foundry saying heavy industrial operations don't mix with a running trail, and the city saying it won't affect the business. Monday night, the city took a power-move in the negotiations by authorizing eminent domain, but not before hearing opinions from those for and against the decision.
Monday evening's meeting was filled with people praising the Greenway's success. Guy Byrd, with a non-profit that supports the trail, says that's because so many believe in the long-term vision.
"The day we can go from Green Hill Park in Salem to Explore Park, and then take other greenways off of it, is going to be wonderful," said Byrd.
But to do that, the trail would have to go right past an active foundry. Some think that would be the end for the company.
"I love the greenway, and I love to bike, and I would love for it to be as long as possible, but I think to put a 100 year old business and possibly 60 people out of work, is morally reprehensible," said Suzanne Osborne, who lives in Roanoke and spoke at the meeting.
Osborne says the foundry doesn't currently comply with regulations from the Virginia DEQ, and it doesn't have to, because it's been grand-fathered. That might change if its physical footprint were decreased by a trail, unless regulators look the other way.
"If the EPA will give the city a written guarantee of that, then that solves everything, because we can put the Greenway in, Walker Foundry will be grand-fathered, nobody loses their job," said Osborne.
But advocates for the Greenway extension don't buy that argument.
"I missed the part where, because there's a Greenway, right over there on the edge of the river, how that would cause people to lose their jobs, I just missed that part. I'm not persuaded that that's a valid argument," said Byrd.
Byrd also cautions that if City Council doesn't work quickly, federal grant money for the trail might be dead in the water. Osborne says, she just hopes for an ending that works for everyone.
"Maybe it will work out. We all hope it does, we all hope it does, for the good of everybody," said Osborne.
Council says it does intend to continue negotiations with Walker Foundry to try to find a solution that does not include seizing the land. Right now, the city is proposing giving the company just over $70 thousand for the property.