Blacksburg's Midtown Project sparks controversy at planning commission meeting

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The Blacksburg Planning Commission took the next step Tuesday night in redeveloping a critical property that's sat vacant for more than a decade.

The rezoning of the old Blacksburg Middle School site for new homes and offices received initial approval. 

The goal of Tuesday's meeting was to get more activity going on in the area.

How to go about that, though, is ruffling feathers in the town.

Tuesday's public comment period went for nearly two hours and that's with people only getting three minutes each to talk.

The Midtown Project is what's proposed for the old Blacksburg Middle School site.

It would combine residential, retail, commercial and green space.

Tuesday's meeting was completely packed with people standing out in the lobby watching the proceedings on TV. 

Developers have worked with the community throughout the summer putting conditions on the plan, like making it nearly impossible to rent to students.

That work has many giving it the thumbs up, but also a lot of people saying no.

"We tout this town as one of the best places to live, we tout this town as one of the best places to raise children and we tout it as being the happiest and with a project like this, you can combine all of those elements to be a success, said Sharon Scott, the executive director for the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.

"Just because a developer wants to make money doesn't mean that the town has to agree. Everybody makes investments -- some of them are good, some of them are bad -- so we shouldn't automatically rezone just because somebody with money wants to change the town," said resident Teresa Maher.

Many people who spoke tonight romanticized the small town Blacksburg used to be. Throughout the meeting, they kept saying "We're not Northern Virginia."

The planning commission says this is the largest and one of the most important issues they've ever had to decide on.

The rezoning request still needs final approval from Town Council, and just because the planning commission approves it doesn't mean council has to approve it, but historically, that's the way it goes.

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