Huff Lane Property Sale Approved By City Council

Court Rosen explains the division of Huff Lane Property in March 2011.

by Valerie Garner

Roanoke City Council voted unanimously to sell the 5.3-acre Huff Lane Elementary School property adjacent to Valley View Boulevard to NDRA II, LLC.  Monday’s public hearing was uneventful compared to the agitated crowd who objected to the school’s closing in 2010.

NDRA II, LLC is the limited liability parent company of Poe and Cronk Real Estate Group in Roanoke. The contract has several stipulations before the property changes hands.

The buyer has sixty days after the date of the contract to complete their due diligence review of the property and 30 days to apply for rezoning after that. City staff will review and approve the subdivision plat for rezoning. The city has 180 days to approve the buyer’s plan.

The group’s plan calls for two hotels and a restaurant that will become part of the Valley View Mall complex. They will demolish the empty Huff Lane school. A separate 6500 square foot restaurant is proposed at the curve that separates the school and park from Valley View Boulevard.

On January 10 City staff, along with Poe and Cronk President and CEO Dennis Cronk and consultant Steve Albis, met with the Dorchester Court Neighborhood Watch. Monday marked the inevitable loss of what they considered a key component of their neighborhood.  Dorchester President Amy Cosner thought the parcel should have remained part of the adjacent park.

The Huff Lane Park will be upgraded with concessions and bathrooms. Rick Williams, a member of the planning commission, said at January’s neighborhood meeting that over time the neighborhood park had been taken over by the Parks and Recreation Department. The improvements to the park are a means to turn it into a money-maker that will no longer serve the neighborhood, lamented Williams.

The Roanoke City School Board voted to close Huff Lane School in June 2010 after a contentious public hearing. RCPS was in a financial pinch and options were slim. The property was handed over to the city to sell with proceeds going to a much needed renovation and expansion of Round Hill Primary School where most of the students relocated after Huff Lane closed.

The city received seven offers that were narrowed down to the Poe & Cronk Realty Group. “Leveraging the value of commercial property and the sustainability of increased tax revenue in order to keep the schools well funded” was the deciding factor, said Rob Ledger, the city’s economic development director.

Albis said that the restaurant would be entirely separate from the hotels but that he expected the type of franchise that would cater to hotel guests. The quality of the restaurant would also depend on the class of the hotels. “It will be no Waffle House,” he said in January.

To be a profitable venture it will take 80-100 rooms in two building of 5 or 6 levels. The group and city staff promised the neighborhood that the facades would be attractive on all four sides to ensure an esthetically pleasing view for the neighborhood.

A finalized contract will allow dialogue with hotel franchises like Holiday Inn (Intercontinental Hotel Group), Hilton, or a Choice hotel. Room rates would then be established.

In January Rob Ledger, Chris Chittum, planning administrator, and Councilman Ray Ferris assured the Dorchester neighbors that there would be a sufficient buffer between the hotels and the neighborhood and no traffic would be allowed into the neighborhood from Valley View Boulevard.

Construction will begin once a franchise is identified and will take at least a year of actual construction. The work would not disrupt travel on Huff Lane Road, said Ledger.

To alleviate neighbors concerns about changes that would affect the neighborhood Ledger said, “You’ve got a council that’s very, very interested in removing skepticism as much as possible by an open transparent process.”

Ferris confirmed that, “Any changes would go though the same process as now – everyone would be heard.”

In other business: Valley Metro Brings Out Defenders – Eleven speakers signed up to press city council to hold the line on cuts to bus service. Each speaker depended on the bus service in varying degrees. Some said it was their sole means of transportation to work and for doctor visits. Others said that with gas prices rising bus service was needed more than ever. They asked for service to be expanded to alleviate packed buses. There were workers at Malls who after riding the bus to work have to search for a ride home after 9:00 p.m. when there is no bus service.

Bus drivers from the Greater Roanoke Valley Transit Authority said they had not received a raise in three years. Assistant City Manager Sherman Stovall confirmed that though their last raise was in fiscal year 2011 city employees had not received a raise since 2009. Stovall assured city council and bus riders that cuts to bus service were not proposed in the 2013 fiscal year budget.