Progress At Countryside Coming Slowly

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Chris Chittum and Anita Price study the new plans.
Chris Chittum and Anita Price study the new plans.

by Valerie Garner

Roanoke City Planning Administrator Chris Chittum was pleased by the response he received to the initial sketches of the new park, trails, natural areas and greenway section around the old golf course at Countryside. The improvements are planned as part of the $1.5 million in Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funds that are earmarked for part of the now city-owned property.

Tuesday evening 60 anxious residents convened at William Fleming High School. City manager Chris Morrill started off by explaining that the input meeting in September 2011 had yielded an overwhelming consensus for a park and trails.

It has been over a year since the neighborhood began working with the Planning Commission on a Master Plan that would eventually be adopted by Roanoke City Council.

The city purchased the golf course for $4.1 million in 2005 for development, about the same time the housing market went bust. The city hired Meadowbrook Golf, Inc to operate the course. At one point City Council voted to keep it open for 10 years until the economy turned around. Ultimately the city closed it on March 1, 2010.

The past two summers the grass grew tall and a farmer baled hay where once green fairways were home to golf carts and challenging greens. The pool was closed and filled in, the indoor tennis building vacated and the clubhouse was boarded up.

The patio homes on the 10th, 11th, and 12th fairways were built and touted by realtors as golf course villas. The entrance-way “Countryside Cottage” signs posted there once proclaimed it so.

After the 2010 closing the fairway homes were devalued significantly. A poll of patio homeowners showed a reduction in assessments from 11 to 13 percent for 2011. Their hope is that the improvements will bring pride back to the neighborhood, said resident Rosanne Saunders.

Following the original golf cart paths will be linear walking trails that will wind through areas of wildflowers, shrubs and trees. The trails will have fitness stops for more active adults. The natural areas will be low maintenance for ease of upkeep by the Parks and Recreation Department. Scheduled maintenance will be limited to pruning, bi-annual wildflower cutting and some mowing along the trails.

Underwood said the trails and Greenway would follow the topography. No neighbors wanted any bulldozing or leveling of the natural areas that are home to large oak trees. The park area at Lewiston and Ranch Road will have diagonal parallel parking. “Folks of any age and ability can use it,” he said.

The ADA accessible trails will connect to the Greenway, though it will be stand-alone to Ferncliff Drive for now. They will wait to connect the trail across Hershberger Road when the Evans Spring area is developed; that will be after the Valley View interchange is completed sometime in 2015.

The pavilion will have rest-rooms, be lighted, have good visibility and the design will fit the neighborhood, explained Underwood.

Spectrum Design’s John Garland and Alta Planning and Design from Davidson, North Carolina teamed up and were selected to design a final working plan. The city is still negotiating the cost with the team.

City council members and Police Chief Chris Perkins attended the meeting. Perkins and the Neighborhood Community Resource Officer Billy Wood were asked by the neighbors to look for safety improvements. Chief Perkins took notes on lighting needs; there are no streetlights and the city turned off what lights there were at the golf course clubhouse and parking area.

The sticky notes pasted on the display boards will help refine the design, City Council and the Planning Commission will be briefed and final plans will be brought back to the neighborhood in May. Construction documents will be ongoing through the summer.

Steve Boucher, director of Parks and Recreation and Donnie Underwood took questions and suggestions. All in all everyone seemed pleased.

The only real vocal complaint was that it was not moving along fast enough. “Get it done … get started,” said Sharon Blevins of Countryside Drive.  Construction is expected to begin in the fall of this year.