ROANOKE, Va. – A controversial project looking to develop 150 acres of untouched land in Roanoke is moving forward.
In a 5-2 vote on Monday, the Roanoke Planning Commission voted to recommend the Evans Spring Master Plan to city council.
The 150-acre site sits next to Interstate 581 and several Northwest Roanoke neighborhoods. The proposed development calls for 668 housing units, including a mix of apartments, single and multi-family homes. It would also provide commercial space, public trail access to the Lick Run Greenway, and open green spaces and parks.
Commissioners who voted in favor say developing the area would provide much-needed housing in Roanoke. The city is short 4,000 units. Plus, they say it would provide economic and environmental sustainability.
“It will be developed, so how do we want to see it developed?” said James Smith, a commission member. “Right now, anything could happen to the property and you guys will not be happy. None of us will be. We’re trying to put a plan in place so people have a say.”
More than a dozen citizens from all over Roanoke spoke out against the plan. Their overwhelming concerns were over the potential environmental impacts and gentrification.
“Evans Spring is a vital habitat for trees, plants, aquatic wildlife, birds and other species,” said David Perry, from the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.
“I am 72 years old. I have lived through urban renewal. I have lived through the dump. I have lived through all the different changes that have come about in our community. Our community being the African American community. And it hurts me to think that living in Roanoke is a continuation,” said Nadirah Wright, a Northwest Roanoke resident. “When will it stop? When will it end? And why are we so disposable?”
Roanoke City’s Executive Director of Community Development and Placemaking Chris Chittum assured the Commission and the public that the city doesn’t own the Evans Spring land and cannot force anyone to move.
He also emphasized that the land is privately owned meaning that owners can do whatever they like with the property, including cutting down trees or building housing.
“We are not able, nor would we if we could, use eminent domain to obtain homes for this development,” said Chittum.
The Evans Spring Master Plan heads to Roanoke City Council for a public hearing on Tuesday, February 20 at 7 p.m. to determine whether or not to adopt it into the City Plan 2040.