Plan for Huff Lane Elementary Emerges

Court Rosen explains the division of the Huff Lane Property.

by Valerie Garner

Councilman Court Rosen’s plan for the Huff Lane Elementary School property would portion off five acres that encompass the school building, playground and basketball court – leaving the two ball fields, tennis courts and surrounding green space.

Roanoke City Council assigned Rosen along with David Carson, Chairman of Roanoke City School Board, to figure out what to do with the Huff Lane Elementary school property. The school was closed last year and students were incorporated into Round Hill Elementary for the 2010-11 school year.

With Roanoke City Public Schools having no use for the building, City Council will decide whether to market all or a portion of the 16-acre property that includes two ball fields assessed at $2.5 million. Roanoke City owns all school property but has made a commitment that any proceeds from relinquished property be funneled back to the school system.

Rosen has been working with City Manager Chris Morrill, Chairman Carson and other members of  City Council. “I’ve met with a ton of people in commercial real estate … school facilities people, the building facilities people and talked to neighborhoods,” said Rosen.

In a phone call Mayor Bowers said, “it’s an old building and that just lends itself to some other solution. I appreciate the work Court has done on it. As in all matters the council is not the executive. It ought to be sent over to the executive.”

In an e-mail Vice-Mayor Trinkle wrote, “We have all been working and supportive. The primary concern for me is if we sell the property it has to be at a price that is worth it for the city to lose the land and worth it for the school system along with that it be done in a way that preserves or improves the park and the neighborhood boundaries.”

City Manager Morrill in an e-mail said, “I did have our staff work with Council member Rosen and the school folks to come up with some concepts to share with the neighborhood in the hope we could get kids out of temporary classrooms at Round Hill and make improvements to the park by selling Huff Lane for development that would not impact the neighborhood.”

The plan envisions low-impact hotels but that use is not a certainty. He assured there would be a protective dirt berm and no outlet to the neighborhood.“ None of the usable park that you have is going to be taken,” Rosen told the neighborhood Tuesday evening. The basketball court and playground would be relocated.

The Parks and Recreation Department provided drawings of a building with restrooms, pavilion and concession facility. These amenities would be added to the Capital Improvement Project list.

“The neighborhood is a key stakeholder but the neighborhood is not the only stakeholder. The schools have something at stake with what happens here,” said Rosen. He said currently there are 74 fifth grade students in trailers at Round Hill. The proceeds of the sale of the property would be used to expand Round Hill.

Amy Cosner, President of the Dorchester Court Neighborhood Association presented a letter from neighborhood members stating that they wanted to keep “the ENTIRE property as a park.” The school building could be converted into a community center. “The City has the opportunity to right a wrong committed here. The wrong was closing a school … the neighborhood needs a park, not a strip mall or hotel,” said the letter.

Rosen said, “it’s not in shape for a community building … we fiscally can’t keep them open.” Parks and Recreation is trying to juggle what they have currently. By walling off the commercial plot “there will be no chance of more commercial encroachment into the neighborhood … it’s a 70-foot buffer,” said Rosen.

Rosen stressed that this was only a conceptual plan and may not be the only buildings occupying the 5-acre site but in talking with the city manager “he believes that a motel would be perfect for out here in terms of traffic.”

Carson was appreciative of Rosen’s efforts. “As evidenced by his appearance and presentation at the neighborhood meeting last night, Court has reached out to many, many people about what the city is doing and why.  I am also appreciative that this is the beginning of a process that is being conducted in the public eye and that necessarily will include public input as this proceeds.”

Dorchester Drive resident Ray McKee who years ago fought against the Valley View Road extension apologized for his publicized comment that accused city officials of not caring about the neighborhood and praised Rosen for his efforts. It seems likely that McKee will hold their feet to the fire for completion of the proposed amenities.

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