Not All On Board With Carilion Plans for Shenandoah Life Property

Neighborhood residents packed the room to let Carilion and developer The Berkley Hall Companies hear their concerns.

When the remains of Shenandoah Life Insurance Company were sold to Carilion Clinic several years ago, the health care giant purchased the property, not sure what to do with it at the time.

Now they know: Carilion plans to put some of its non-clinical services into the campus-style building on Brambleton Avenue (the design was actually borrowed from a school project), freeing up more room for clinical operations at some of its facilities.

Carilion has also entered into an agreement to sell a portion of that 28 acre parcel to an upscale apartment complex developer, Berkley Hall, in part to pay for some of the renovations needed to the Shenandoah building before some services are moved there later this year.

Mike Dame, the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Carilion, faced the music recently when he met with residents from the surrounding neighborhoods, mostly upset at the idea of apartments being built on the property, which features plenty of green space and close proximity to the Murray Run Greenway.

Dame says after a letter of intent was signed to sell a portion of the property to Berkley Hall, “we made a commitment a year ago to make sure members of the community and neighbors in the Brambleton area had a chance to have their voices heard – regardless of what we decided to do with the property.”

As a community meeting in late February held in the Shenandoah Life Building’s former cafeteria showed, many were not happy with what they saw as a reduced quality of life, additional traffic on Brambleton Ave. and safety concerns.

If Carilion Clinic goes through with the sale to Berkley Hall, the tract would not require rezoning in order for the apartments to be built, so what sway residents could have on the proposed development is limited.

“The thing that was most important to us is that making sure neighbors surrounding the property had a chance to weigh in and share their thoughts, and help to inform the developer as they were making their plans,” says Dame.

At the meeting last week Berkley Hall planned to show off initial plans, trying to convince people of the minimal traffic impact on their local roads since there will not be connections to neighborhood streets.

The traffic on Brambleton Ave. will be impacted, said Dame. There will not be any exterior changes to the iconic Shenandoah Life building; Dame also says the lush green “great lawn” that runs from Brambleton Ave. up to the building on the hill will be preserved. “All of the construction will be inside.”

Dame says Carilion is “always looking for more space for clinical care,” which is why they are looking forward to moving some non-clinical functions into the Shenandoah Life building.“The most important thing to us was to be good neighbors, and to be transparent about our plans.”

Judging by the adverse reaction at the late February public meeting (another community meeting was scheduled at the Grandin Co-Lab on March 2), Carilion Clinic has a ways to go to assure neighbors surrounding the Shenandoah Life building that the luxury, upscale apartments Berkley Hall promises will be the “good investment” for the community that Carilion claims it will be.

Gene Marrano