ROANOKE, Va. – Monday night marked a huge win for those in favor of relocating Roanoke’s Valley Metro bus station to the space in front of the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
Roanoke’s new bus station will end up in the Brandon Lot after all. City council voted 7-0 Monday night to change downtown zoning code to allow the relocation and construction of the bus station by right, rather than through a special exemption.
It’s a historic vote that some on council feel will be their legacy to the city, writing the next chapter of the region’s history.
“We’re committed to getting a bus station that all of our citizens can utilize and deserve," Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea said.
As 10 News has previously reported, plans for the bus station hit a roadblock back in August after the Roanoke City Board of Zoning Appeals, a citizen-board, denied a special exception permit for the project.
In response, council changed the zoning code to allow the station by right in the downtown district so it no longer needs a permit.
“The importance of permitting transit facilities by right rather than by special exception because it’s an essential public service that is fundamental to the operation of the city’s transportation system," city planning director Chris Chittum said.
A special exception permit would have been needed for the project to be located anywhere in the downtown district, not just at the controversial parking lot site. The current bus station, Campbell Court, pre-dated current zoning code and was grandfathered in.
It’s been a lightning rod topic in the Roanoke Valley, and was a campaign promise for some in the election. The two republican candidates, Peg McGuire and Maynard Keller, both expressed concern over the project, as did the Roanoke City Republican Committee. It was also a key issue in the Roanoke city mayoral race.
People who live and work right around the new site oppose the project and said council rigged the system, but council said that’s not true.
Bill Chapman is a downtown developer, responsible for much of how that side of downtown looks today. His projects include the Lofts at West Station, Big Lick Brewing, the Fulton Motor Lofts and Tuco’s Taqueria. He accused the city of making back-room deals away from the public’s involvement.
The Virginia Museum of Transportation also is against the proposal, with the new site basically in its front yard. While not as vocal, they too have questioned the process.
Lea said he took offense to people accusing council of gaming the system for political gain.
Councilwoman Michelle Davis, who did not run for re-election, voted yes to the change but said she was not just going along with the group.
“While I have questioned this proposal in detail to the chagrin of our staff and my fellow councilmembers at times, I continue to believe that we can support a new transit facility that will support our entire city," Davis said.
About 15 people spoke at Monday night’s meeting, nearly all in favor of the change.
Councilman Bill Bestpitch is also set to retire from his long political career at the end of his current term. He said he knows he made the right decision supporting the change.
“We have no sacred duty to accept whatever the board of zoning appeals decides. Our moral obligation as a council is to do the right thing," Bestpitch said.
The current bus station site will be turned over to a private investor, Hist:Re Partners, as part of a land swap with the city. The company intends to demolish the current bus station and replace it with a mixed use project, featuring a new one way street bisecting the current site, with ground floor retail and commercial and residential space above. Lucas Thornton is the company’s managing partner, and spoke in favor of the zoning code change at Monday’s meeting.
The new bus station will first be a temporary station at the new site, and then be built in sections around it.
This is a story 10 News has covered extensively:
- June 18, 2020: Roanoke city leaders get feedback on new bus station plan
- February 26, 2020: Roanoke takes the next step to move its downtown bus station
- January 23, 2019: Roanoke city councilmembers defend controversial bus station decision