I'm encouraged to see Sonic making an attempt to revamp its' approach. Don't take no for an answer, don't fight, just find a new way to make it work for everyone. Updated 9/6 - there's no guarantee it'll go through a second time; I still think too many people are just going to kick and scream on anything regarding this project at this point, but I like the approach.
Today's post comes from the NRVLiving Real Estate Group's very own Steve Ayers, a Blacksburg Townie and Food Afficionado of some kind. I've been bugging him for a year to bring us something here on the blog, and we've finally found a topic that's near and dear to his stomach - err, heart. Welcome, Steve!
South Main Street in Blacksburg ... A covered canopy with rows of speakers that you pulled into to order treats.
Ice Cream, Milkshakes, Fresh fries, Buddy Boys, with a side of Friends.
If you remember these, you remember Lendy's.
Lendy's was a great meeting place in Blacksburg, at least in the late fifties, sixties, and early seventies.
A classic American Drive-In restaurant. Push button call stations, wonderful curb service.
You sat in the comfort of your own car, talking to friends, listening to the radio, waiting for your order.
It might be a double decker hamburger with cheese, lettuce, pickle and its own special tangy sauce, a Buddy Boy. Before KFC UCB (OK .... spelled out ... Kentucky Fried Chicken on University City Blvd.) ,
This was where you ordered real fried chicken from Colonel Harland Sanders, made from the secret herbs and spices.
Drinks? How about a thick chocolate or strawberry milkshake or maybe even a Lime Freeze.
This meeting place, this delicious retreat, is part of the history, part of the fabric, of a small town called Blacksburg, VA.
The 1400 block of South Main was a family and friends destination for food, fun, and fellowship.
Everything from alley ways to the 16 downtown original blocks are being enhanced to make sure we do not lose the character of our 'Burg.
And my Mom could have ordered a Limeade without having to drive to Christiansburg. (She gets me a strawberry limeade ... Thanks Mom)
Full disclosure - I'm a Blacksburg resident, have been since 2001. Now that's out of the way.
Excellent op-ed in Sunday's Roanoke Times regarding the high cost of elitism. My favorite line (emphasis mine):
"The costs came in the forms of economic stagnation, limited job opportunities, underfunding for the social infrastructure of bridges, roads and schools, and high property taxes."
Hat tip to New River Journal - he's got several good links there regarding the First & Main debate.
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On Wednesday, attorneys for Fairmount Properties filed an appeal to last month's Blacksburg Town Council's vote against the installation of a Sonic Drive-In restaurant at the new First & Main development on South Main Street.
Some quotes from the article:
"The council has in the recent past approved similar special-use permits for other restaurants, including a Wendy's across the street from the site of the proposed Sonic."
"On Aug. 5, the town's planning commission is scheduled to hear public comments on another special-use permit for phase one, this one for an Arby's restaurant at 1450 S. Main St."
"This ... is political retribution for Fairmount's successful challenge of the Town Council's previous improper actions towards the First & Main project."
That's right - this is all about control.
I understand they have to go through the due process, but I'm VERY interested to see how the rule on this Special Use Permit given what else they've shot down.
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Wish I had the answer. I've had two calls from friends this morning asking about the issue, and other than referring them to other posts on the topic, I don't know what to tell them. I think we're making a mistake, arguing over loudspeakers in a retail center. If the Sonic was to go where I think it was to go, I am virtually certain that there are louder, more nuisance-creating shops, service stations and the like throughout Town that are closer to residential areas than this would've been.
Before you tar and feather me ... I agree with one of the points against Sonic. First & Main is a pedestrian-oriented facility, and the footprint of a Sonic certainly doesn't encourage walk-up traffic. However, if I'm reading the tenant plan from May 18 correctly, it looks as if the location of Sonic was probably Outparcel #5, fronting on South Main Street. Surely the traffic plan could have been modified to prevent pedestrians and cars from interfering with each other ...
So what to do? Listen, it's a Sonic, I don't know that I care that much about the fact that I can't get a $.99 milkshake (do they REALLY put milk in there, anyway?). What I'm more concerned about is the fact that we're showing these retailers we're going to make it REALLY difficult to do business in Town limits. That's disappointing. And we're telling up and coming businesses, like Modea, or Mailtrust, or <insert CRC tenant list here> that we're not serious about providing their employees quality of life options.
What is - I think - a pretty good editorial regarding the latest First & Main controversy ...
council must issue permits consistently and deny them only for a compelling public reason.
Is Council issuing permits consistently, and denying them only for a compelling public reason? To me, it seems not. It seems that Council is going to make it difficult for Fairmount to proceed on every point. Is that what we want our retailers seeing? As our elected officials setting us up for long-term failure, as developers and retailers alike decide to bypass Blacksburg because of changing rules? I know for a fact two developers who have told me personally they'll never build in Blacksburg again ... it seems to me we're sending the wrong message.
As our population grows - and it will grow - will we be able to provide the retail, residential and public service infrastructure?
UPDATE Tuesday 7:30am - watch the fireworks tonight at Blacksburg's Town Council meeting.
UPDATE Friday 9:30am - editorial from the Collegiate Times
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With all the publicity that's come from a project like this (we Blacksburg-ians can sure get worked up, huh?), what's your take on First & Main? Is this something you're going to utilize, or because of the way the Big Box issue has been handled will you just stay away? Leave a comment, let us know what you think!
I think I understand BURG's concern, I honestly, truly do. The fact remains that the developer submitted a plan, the Town approved it, realized they didn't like the plan and then tried to act retroactively. The developer's not going to pull out now, they've invested millions already, and at the time their project was approved they had a right to move forward. Each and every citizen of Blacksburg would be better served if the two sides would sit down and work together, rather than stare at each other from across a courtroom. And these appeals and delays seem to be nothing more than an attempt to smoke each other out. Am I wrong?
I'm already tired of First & Main, and they haven't even gotten started yet, really. Maybe I need a vacation ...
See you on Monday - don't forget to check out the radio show from 10:00 - 10:30 Saturday morning on 810AM, and you can stream it live at www.810wpin.com.
A real possibility, it looks like, particularly after another hearing swings in Fairmount Properties' favor.
After more than four hours of legal wrangling and passionate testimony, on a 4-0 vote the Blacksburg Board of Zoning Appeals upheld the town's approval of site plans for a large chunk of the 40-acre First & Main retail project. Building permits for parts of the project have also been approved, and construction has begun on the site. Some stores could open by the fall, Fairmount Properties attorney Jim Cowan has said.
I still contend that the Town and Developer would be better-served to actually sit down together and work things out, instead of costing the TAXPAYERS more money by fighting this out in court. It doesn't look like all this legal wrangling is doing any good - Fairmount Properties keeps winning every one. What are we proving by losing every battle? Buildings are starting to come out of the ground, let's get going (this picture taking on Monday, already much more progress has been done since then. And my apologies to the red Ford Explorer that had to change lanes as I stopped in the middle of Main Street to get this shot). Sit down with Fairmount, work out the differences, come to a compromise and move forward. Because of the tenant mix and notoriety, this affects not only the citizens of Blacksburg but of all of the New River Valley, so do what's right for your community.
Can someone tell me why we should be doing otherwise? Click on the "Comments" link at the bottom of this post and tell us your thoughts.
Interesting that if this goes to the state Supreme Court, it'll influence how governments handle new developments. Personally, I think this has gone on long enough. Town Council has wasted a LOT of money to try and amend something that they feel they mistakingly passed, and taxpayers are paying for the mistake. Your thoughts?
Yep, they're turning dirt down at First & Main, the new retail development mix on South Main Street in Blacksburg. I took some pictures on my phone this afternoon, so apologies if the quality's not the greatest. You can find out all the latest on First & Main from Google here.
You've heard the news - the developer wanted a big box store, Town Council voted an Ordinance into place to block it, and now that's been repealed by the Planning Commission. We won't belabor that, but if you haven't been down South Main Street in a while you'll be surprised when you do. I've said all along, I think this is good for the Town and I'm excited to see them get started. In the end, I think most of us are going to be happy with the results. Like many of you, I'm concerned that a development match the character of the Town, but I know the principals involved here have worked diligently with the Town's Powers That Be to assure that is done. And I'd love to have someone involved with the project on the radio show soon, so if you're reading this and can help with that, please email me.
Anyone up for a beer at the Brewhouse when complete?
This is one of the most commented on topics on this blog, so I hope you don't disappoint ... any thoughts?
Heard the news? The Blacksburg Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously to reverse Council's approval of Ordinance 1450, and overturned Zoning Administrator Steve Hundley's ruling that the South Main Street development would be subject to the rules of the newly adopted Ordinance 1450. It's about time ... Ordinance 1450 has the opportunity to allow the Town better control over what's built within Town limits, but it was inappropriately enacted and I hope the Board's ruling will stand. As usual, we need to go through the appeal of the appeal now.
This doesn't mean a big box store is going in on the site ... but it certainly makes it more likely than ever before. And I like that the Ordinance will still be in place for future projects ... As I wrote at the time, I don't care where you stand on the issue - Council's vote was grandstanding and ill-served. I hope that this ruling will stand and we can move forward. It's not about one store over another for me, it's about the project as a whole. Ordinance 1450 was created to try and stop what some believed to be an inappropriate store (despite the fact that no announcement has ever been made) and was a knee-jerk reaction. Council's decision ended up being what was inappropriate. I don't want this Council going unchallenged when they clearly acted with a vendetta.
Enjoy the ride.
So, Ordinance 1450 passed and all is right with the world ... or going to hell in a handbasket ... depending on who you ask. It's been more than a week since the vote and my legs have just regained feeling from standing all night long listening to the comments. Since the vote last Tuesday night I've gotten a number of emails from folks who, like I, were against 1450 and who wanted to get my thoughts. What was I going to say?? It appeared to me that Council had already made up their minds and that nothing was going to be solved by the grandstanding that took place. I thought it was GREAT that there had been so much citizen participation - for or against the Ordinance, it's our duty to speak out and there were literally hundreds that did it that night ... some ad nausea, but they spoke nevertheless.
Here's the thing ... I'm not against the development but I understand some of the reasons people were upset. "This is a big store, it's next to a school ..." Valid arguments, sure, but the way Town Council acted retroactively to block this portion of the development is, in my opinion, an inappropriate use of authority and, again in my opinion, a bait and switch as well. That's the thing I find so distasteful in all of this, I think. That and the use of children as props both before and during the session. You can't tell me that an 8 year old knows what they're saying as they read a prepared statement full of not so subtle references to "The Evil Mart" and "cheap plastic stuff", or picket outside the Council chambers. Excuse me as I spit ...
While I was thrilled to see that kind of involvement in public policy, I found actions like using children to be deplorable, and was disappointed at some of the rude comments made both to myself and others who opposed 1450. It became personal - there were some there who weren't there to speak out or support, they were there to be rude, obnoxious and degrading. I was called stupid, a colleague ridiculed as he stepped to the podium, and I know others left because of the name calling they experienced. That's disappointing - we're adults, let's act like it. How did this become so personal?
I wish I could find Councilman Lancaster's comments at the end of the session - if you know where the video is, let me know and I'll embed it here. The speech could be entitled "What I Have Learned" and was an equal opportunity woodshed moment, pretty balanced in its' venom. Some have said there was a lot of grandstanding on both sides, which I would agree with. This turned into a circus ... as one individual said to me after the event, "the law allows people to protect their property when someone is taking outward action which will harm the property and saleability ...". They're right, the law does allow for that kind of protection, which only makes the future that much more interesting as now the law is being challenged and those who wrote the Ordinance are being sued.
Tonight, the battle rages on. Blacksburg Town Council votes tonight on Ordinance 1450, an Ordinance proposed by Council to limit the size of retail buildings to no more than 80000 square feet without Council-issued Special Use Permit. Proponents of the Ordinance say that it is the "Anti-WalMart" Ordinance, while opponents of the Ordinance say it's an inappropriate use of governmental regulations and limits economic growth for the Town.
Adding drama to an already intense "my feelings are hurt" debate, the developer have the property has already filed a preemptive suit against the Town, and rumors are swelling that Councilman Langrehr is using the Ordinance to gain support for another run at Mayor.
Oh, isn't Blacksburg fun sometimes? But in all seriousness, regardless of where you stand on this issue this is where your voice should be heard. The session begins at 7:30pm at Town Hall tonight - if it's anything like last summer's session when the project was approved, it should be exciting. If you're able to make it and see me there, stop by and say hello!
You didn't even know there was a boxing match this weekend, did you? Yea, I couldn't care less either ...
Yesterday I posted about Michael Miller's piece in the Roanoke Times about how Blacksburg Takes Itself Too Seriously. Apparently I'm late to the game - I had several people write me and tell me they regularly read his stuff, but I had never seen it before. Regardless, he's just about got it right ... we do take ourselves a little too seriously sometimes. I DO think the issue is one that's important enough to have some solid debate on and that Council needs to work with their original decision, although his piece was funny and on target nonetheless.
I wanted to bring to everyone's attention two websites of interest around this topic. I've gone out of my way to try and present both sides of this whole redevelopment issue although I don't agree with the Council's handling of Ordinance 1450, and with the idea of fair play I wanted to bring to everyone's attention these two sites (if you hadn't seen them already) both for and against Ordinance 1450. It's interesting to see the opposing images the two sides use.
Against - http://www.blacksburgshopping.com - recently created in support of the South Main development, the site shows the most recent site plan, provides opportunities for supporters and opponents alike to understand what the developer wants to accomplish, and has an online petition that people can sign. One thing I've found disappointing is the number of people who've signed the petition who have actually opposed the project. You've got your own petition! I feel like I'm back in the 6th grade - let's be adults, people.
For - http://www.citizensfirstforblacksburg.org/ - Citizens First, according to their website, was founded in 2003 as a way to defeat the proposed Tom's Creek Sewer basin project and elect a new Town Council. It could be argued whether the characteristics of "transparency and responsiveness" that they were looking for in their new Council have been attained (sorry, that was below the belt), but nonetheless they are organized and I believe many of their members do have Blacksburg's best interests at heart.
Dissenting opinions aside, I'd encourage everyone to check out the two sites and inform yourself as best you can. Ordinance 1450 is important for Blacksburg, and I'd encourage you to take the time to come to the meeting next week. If you've never been, try it once - it's better than the dentist's chair I assure you ... apologies to any dentist-readers.
Okay, so the title of the post is a bit misleading but you kept reading, right? I hope so. I received the following comment from my post yesterday about the web site www.blacksburgshopping.com from a reader named Paul who makes a good point. I love that this is getting people in this Town talking, but I'm disturbed by some of the comments that have come out of the arguments (not here on this blog, but in other forums around Town). Nevertheless, I think this breeds some really good discussion, and in my reply to Paul I realized I was just writing another post. So I've continued it below ...
Paul says - "I’ve been following this development since it was proposed last year and I was very excited about it until the latest plan showed a big-box store behind Kroger. Fairmount has not released the name of the big-box, but I can only presume it’s a Walmart until they say otherwise. I’ve noticed that several of the comments on the petition, including your comments, stated that we should compromise and work with the builder to make the anchor store work. Without ordinance 1450, there’s no incentive for the builder to even come to the table to talk about it. One aspect of 1450 that people keep forgetting to mention is that it doesn’t prevent a big-box from being built. It just requires that the builder would need to acquire a special-use permit for the building in question. The builder would then have an incentive to work with the town on making the anchor store work for the community. I personally believe the town doesn’t want to see this opportunity pass them by, which is why I believe they’ll use 1450 in a positive manner."
Thanks for the comment, Paul. If my memory serves me right, every plan has shown a large-footprint anchor store on the plan, it's just that when the developer decided to take residential out of the plan and replace it with a larger footprint, people got upset. The developer never proffered to include residential - they wanted to include residential but I'm sure quickly found in signing leases that an anchor tenant was going to be key to the plan. As I've said before (http://tinyurl.com/3745l4), I don't want a Wal-Mart either but I have seen applications where the big-box fits well into the scheme of the project and I think that can happen here. What I DO want is for the project to continue in an expeditious manner. The Town has repeatedly rejected opportunities over the last several years that would have created significant commercial tax revenue and slowed the rampant growth in the residential sector that has driven so many to live elsewhere. Without revealing too much, I may or may not - wink wink - have had the opportunity to learn a good bit more about the project within the last month, and I walked away from that meeting feeling no better about the fact that it wouldn't be a Wal-Mart on that site. But I also didn't get the impression that it couldn't be any number of other large anchor tenants. I don't shop at Wal-Mart - I don't care about cheap plastic stuff - but there are a lot of other tenants in that tenant mix that I want to see here and I firmly believe this is an opportunity for the Town to step up and make this work.
Here's the thing that bothers me the most - Ordinance 1450 seems to have been put in place after a minority started pushing on Council to retract the approval they agreed upon last summer, and Council relented. I don't have a problem with Council changing a previous agreement if that agreement was invalid in some way, but in this case they rezoned the property to allow the development to continue and now are attempting to change zoning again less than 12 months later to restrict the development. I am no architect or space planner but I'd be willing to bet that 80000 square feet is not going to be touched by any of the retailers that would be considered big box stores. If a big box store is what is needed to make something like this work - and if you look at other lifestyle centers you'll see that it's a theme among all of them - then the development will not succeed. Large-scale retail in lifestyle centers like this scratches smaller retail's back. The closest lifestyle center to Blacksburg right now is probably Concord Mills in NC, and that's a "prehistoric" version as it's really a mall. But it's a good example. The "smaller" retailers of Concord Mills (chosen randomly from CM's website) - like Ann Taylor Loft, California Pizza Kitchen, Oakley and Wet Seal - do not survive without traffic from the Circuit City's, BJ's, and Home Depot's both surrounding the mall AND within the mall. The smaller retailers just don't attract the dollars necessary to make that work, but the larger retailers do.
I think you and I agree on most of this, but from comments made publicly by some of the Council I just don't believe they are interested in using Ordinance 1450 as a means of working with this developer and that's where we likely disagree. Like so many others I sat through those public sessions and heard the proffers to fulfill what the Town was requesting. Now, someone posts a website saying "WAL-MART IS COMING, WAL-MART IS COMING" and Ordinace 1450 is fast-tracked. That says to me the Town isn't interested in working with the development or discussions would have taken place; they're interested in working against it and that's where I think a SUP wouldn't be approved. But I'm hopeful that I'm wrong ...
Over many many months I've written about various responses and reactions to the proposed Blacksburg redevelopment, The Boulevards At Blacksburg. Last summer, Town Council approved the development after a 5-hour public comments session and tenant recruitment subsequently moved forward. Since that time, some on the Council appear to have changed their minds and are now trying to find a way to block the project. Ordinance 1450 is designed to do just that, and personally I think its a shame.
I'll post more on this when I get back to the office, but for now check out this site. It's a site designed by the developer to solicit feedback and signatures in support of the project, but I also think it does a good job of explaining why the project is good for the Town. Obviously it's going to be biased toward a favorable outcome but in my opinion, that's an okay thing.
Again, I'm walking across campus as I type this on my phone so I'll write more when I get back. Apologies for any spelling mistakes but I just can't see the screen all that well with this wonderful, gorgeous sunshine! Check out the site, I'll have more later.
That's what a few dozen folks did yesterday outside the International Council of Shopping Centers meeting here in Blacksburg. Fairmount Properties, the Cleveland-based developer of the South Main project currently slated to begin here in late summer 2007, was in attendance and held a press conference after the luncheon saying that the project couldn't move forward with a big-box anchor tenant and that other retailers were watching.
I've been following this project pretty closely since it was publicly announced quite some time ago, and I have never once heard with any certainty that the anchor tenant Fairmount has targeted for the site is Wal-Mart, but there are hundreds within the Town that seem to think otherwise. Petitions have been signed, websites and blogs denouncing the retailer have been created, and emails announcing the protest have been circulated. Good Lord, enough already! Here's the point ...
As I've said before, there are certain things that make Blacksburg unique and I'm not certain that a store like Wal-Mart is one of them but I AM FOR THIS DEVELOPMENT. But I don't know that it's a Wal-Mart - could it be a K-Mart, a Kohl's, a Target? Who knows, at this point EVERYTHING out there is just conjecture. In the summer Town Council approved rezoning of the South Main site and now they've switched their opinion and seem to be trying to change the rules once again on the developer. If I'm Fairmount I'm going to be pissed ... I've made promises to tenants based on what the Town approved in regards to the zoning, and now it's being challenged and threatened to be changed?
FULL DISCLOSURE - I don't know this developer. I don't know anything specific about what's going into the site other than what I've already posted. There, that's out of the way. So tell me - why is this such a big deal? Increased revenue for a municipal government that needs the estimated $1,000,000 in tax revenue a retail development like this could bring? While they're low compared to national averages, our property taxes aren't going to get any cheaper, folks, and the burden of another tax increase like we just saw could be partially borne by solid retail development involving a mix of tenants who are committed to staying, not mom and pop stores that are going to struggle every day to survive. I love the mom and pop stores - Natalie and I try to buy our books from local stores, we purchase milk from Homestead Creamery (try their Egg Nog!) and we support the Buy Local campaign. But the truth of the matter is that our dollars need to stay in Blacksburg, rather than being spent in and supporting Christiansburg. Nothing against Christiansburg, but I'd prefer to support retailers and restaurateurs in the community I live in. Right now, I buy gas, groceries and Diet Pepsi in Blacksburg.
I really hope some of the readers here will offer some insightful commentary on their thoughts - this is one of the most contentious issues to hit Blacksburg in quite some time and I know there's some thoughtful commentary out there. We all look forward to reading it ...