Countryside Decision Proving to be Long, Slow Slog

The Countryside Golf Course Clubhouse has seen better days.

by Valerie Garner

It has been a “long slow slog” for the Countryside ex-golf course neighborhood. Distrust still permeates neighbors’ memories and some are so dejected they have hunkered down in their homes or vowed to move.

“Fat chance of moving in this economy,” says Sharon Blevins, a resident on Countryside Drive. The golf course was the marketing advantage that Countryside residents once had. City council closed that door a year ago. Probably the coup de grâce for most neighbors was council’s vote to keep the golf course viable for 10 years. Followed closely behind with a “shut ‘er down” council decision made behind closed doors.

No golf course, no development, and no park – only weeds, grass and trash peppered with hidden shenanigans around now vacant buildings. Susan Hall on Ranch Road calls it, “Shawshank without the redemption.”

City council has charged the Planning Commission with coming up with a master plan for the property.

Rick Williams, Planning Commission member used his Valentine’s evening to attend a Monday Countryside Neighborhood Alliance meeting.

With the persuasion of YouTube clips, data links and vocal neighbors Williams has been convinced that parts of the property are just not suited for development. Housing was planned in Roanoke Regional Airport’s flight path off of runway 6. Williams agrees that it should be parkland and suggested vegetation requiring little upkeep.

Williams pointed to the forlorn neighbors – “we do listen to you” and “your input does make a difference,” said the impassioned Williams.

Roanoke City purchased countryside golf course in 2005 for $4.1 million and financed it for 15 years at 6.25% interest. When paid off, the property will have cost taxpayers $6 million including the interest.

In the same year the city sold the city-owned Colonial Green property located off of Colonial Avenue near the intersection with Ogden Road for $35. Colonial Green is still in development.

Joyce Graham, managing member of Tom’s Creek Investors, L.C. in Blacksburg and Colonial Green, L.C. submitted a Request for Qualifications in 2005 for the Countryside property. Toll Brothers, Inc. did the same.

A RFQ is a first vetting of a developer’s experience and financial standing. Following selection from the RFQ process it then goes on to the RFP (Request for Proposal) process for detailed project plans.

For the Countryside property Toll Brothers was chosen over Graham. In a letter from Chris Chittum to Graham dated October 4, 2005, then Senior City Planner, Chittum told Graham that:

“After evaluating your Statement, we are not able to identify Tom’s Creek Investors, L.C. as a Qualified Developer for the purposes of the Countryside Development project. The primary reason for this determination is the components, so we are seeking a developer with extensive experience in developing a broad range of land uses. The City did not see the requisite range and depth of previous development experience in your project team that will be required for the successful redevelopment of a tract of land such as Countryside.”

In early 2006 Toll Brothers withdrew their interest. In June 2009 Graham’s Village at Tom’s Creek, located on 120 acres with a mix of housing styles, celebrated their success in Blacksburg.

At last week’s Planning Commission work session and at the open house on January 27, Charles Price, President of the Northwest Recreation Club pitched an idea. Price, who is a city council member Anita Price’s husband, Clay Dawson propose keeping the tennis building, club house, parking and pavilion and adding a large indoor recreation area.

The Planning Commission was cool to that idea. They thought that keeping the tennis building might be possible with extensive renovations.

Plans also include keeping the barn and silo that have become a landmark when entering Roanoke City from I-581. Chris Chittum, Roanoke’s Planning Administrator, thinks it can be put to good use.

The last Planning Commission work session is February 24 followed by meetings with developers before presentation to City Council on March 21. Chittum will talk to neighbors at their next meeting March 14.

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