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Huff Lane Property Proposal Revealed

Dennis Cronk and Steve Albis

by Valerie Garner

The Huff Lane School property is getting a much anticipated make-over. Two hotels and a restaurant will be added to the sprawling site adjacent to Valley View Mall on a 5.3-acre parcel where the Huff Lane Intermediate School now sits empty. A separate 6500 square foot restaurant is proposed at the curve that now separates the school and park from Valley View Boulevard.

Tuesday evening, the Dorchester Court Neighborhood Watch members listened with a mix of skepticism and submission as the reality of the inevitable bite off their neighborhood sunk in. Dorchester President Amy Cosner felt the parcel should have remained part of the adjacent park.

To appease the neighborhood, the park will be upgraded with concessions and bathrooms. Rick Williams, a member of the planning commission, took the opportunity to explain the two different kinds of parks – a neighborhood park and a community park. Over time Huff Lane has been taken over by the Parks and Recreation Department and no longer serves the neighborhood. Williams feels that the improvements, though sounding good, are simply being done to further the park as a moneymaker. When ball games occur Williams said he gets complaints about lights, stereos blaring and trash.

The Roanoke City School Board voted to close Huff Lane School in June 2010 to the chagrin of the neighborhood. The school system 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 the Round Hill Primary School where most of the students relocated.

The city received seven offers that were eventually narrowed down to HMP Properties and Poe & Cronk Realty Group. Dennis Cronk, President and CEO, and associate Matt Huff accompanied Steve Albis, a representative of HMP Properties, to the Tuesday meeting.

“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.

Interviewed later, Albis said that the restaurant was entirely separate from the hotels but he expects that the type of franchise that locates there would cater to hotel guests. The quality of the restaurant will also depend on the class of the hotels

He also said that to be a profitable venture it would take 80-100 rooms that would be in two buildings consisting of 5 or 6 levels each. The facades will be attractive on all four sides to ensure the view facing the neighborhood is as esthetically pleasing as the front.

Until the contract is finalized, Albis said that no high-end hotel would even talk to them about a franchise. That being the case he was hesitant to say what the room rates might be.

The hotel’s style is dependent on the franchise. It could be a Holiday Inn (now part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group), a Hilton, or a Choice hotel.

Following a planned February public hearing at City Council, HMP Properties will have 60 days to perform their due diligence. Ledger would only say the price agreed upon was over the $1.5 million minimum bid – somewhere between 1.5 and $2 million.

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

Construction would begin when the contract with the city is finalized and a franchise identified. It would take at least a year of actual construction. The work would not disrupt travel on Huff Lane Road, said Ledger.

Rick Williams, a member of the Planning Commission, said, “Some of us have long enough memories that city officials made promises in the past… then something changed.”  The school property was taken from the park and now the city is taking it for commercial use.

“A promise made 10-15 years ago is no longer considered a promise,” said Williams.

During the Valley View construction discussion there was a promise made that “we are not going to let commercial development ever jump across to Huff Lane Park … that was explicitly stated,” said Williams.

It was his experience with the Valley View Mall construction that many of the proffers were unenforceable – lighting, noise and trash were examples. “Those kinds of things cannot be regulated,” he said.

“People don’t trust the process,” said Dan Smith, a resident of the neighborhood.

“As much as you say that a hotel is a compatible development for the neighborhood – I have my doubts … I suspect you wouldn’t see this kind of development proposal if we were talking about this in other parts of the city… like South Roanoke, Grandin Court or Raleigh Court.”

Chris Chittum, Planning Administrator, defended proffers as part of a legislative process. He said that they remain in effect and are enforceable until they are changed. Williams and Chittum went back and forth about past history and proffers changed or ignored. If it’s something “physical and touchable,” Chittum said he could ensure it would remain there.

Ledger said he couldn’t respond to something that occurred in the past. “You’ve got a council that’s very, very interested in removing skepticism as much as possible by an open, transparent process,” said Ledger.

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

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