Sutphin and Bush: What Virginia Tech’s over-enrollment means for Blacksburg

The following commentary originally appeared in The Roanoke Times on May 26, 2019:

Since Virginia Tech made headlines for surpassing its student enrollment goals, there’s been an understandable tension in Blacksburg.

The university had a target of 6,600 incoming freshmen, but it overshot that number considerably. The official release from the university puts the incoming student population between 7,500 and 7,585 students, but this assumes a higher-than average percentage of students who accepted this spring will not enroll in the fall. If this “melt” rate is the same as previous years, the incoming class will have approximately 7,625 students, or 1,025 over Virginia Tech’s admissions target.

That’s a lot of students — 1,340 more than last year’s incoming class and almost 800 more than the university’s largest-ever freshman class in 2017. For comparison’s sake, The Edge student apartments adjacent to campus has about 910 bedrooms. Continue reading “Sutphin and Bush: What Virginia Tech’s over-enrollment means for Blacksburg”

2018 highlights

Friends,

Now that we have welcomed the New Year, I wanted to update you about the Blacksburg Town Council’s work over the past 12 months. With a new mayor, new council members, and a special election behind us, this was a year of change for Blacksburg. But it was also a productive year in many areas:

  • Voted in favor of rezoning the Old Blacksburg Middle School property as a newly appointed member of the Blacksburg Planning Commission. The town and developers are working out the details on a development agreement, which governs the business aspects of the project such as the town’s contributions for public parking and infrastructure. Town Council anticipates voting on both the rezoning and development agreement in the coming months.
  • Reviewed rezoning requests for Hearthstone, Habitat for Humanity, Airport Acres, Cedar Run Overlook, Uptown, Research Center Drive, and Terrace View with an eye on neighborhood context and Blacksburg’s housing needs. In the case of Airport Acres, I voted against the rezoning. (In my role as a Planning Commissioner, I also voted on other rezoning requests which have not yet come to Town Council.)
  • Met with Virginia Tech officials to learn about the campus master plan and its impact on the Town of Blacksburg, especially downtown, and participated in public meetings with Development Strategies to plan for our downtown’s future.
  • Continued to support amenities that make Blacksburg a good place to live. For example, Council approved a lease with the new owners of the old Blacksburg High School to allow continued use of the recreation facilities and accepted and appropriated funds for the Mountain Bike Skills Park.
  • Supported the launch of the Roam New River Valley bike share—a successful partnership involving Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Montgomery County, and Virginia Tech.
  • Voted to expand the town boundary to add the Meadows park following a land donation from Montgomery County.
  • Voted to update the town code regarding picketing and demonstrations to clarify the process and add safety provisions.
  • Continued to advocate for our regional transportation needs as a representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization board and SmartWay Advisory Committee.
  • Approved resolutions in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and campaign finance limits and transparency.

Continue reading “2018 highlights”

A look back at 2017

Friends,

While the Blacksburg election may have grabbed local headlines in 2017, the Town Council continued its work throughout the year. I wanted to update you on a few of our accomplishments over the past 12 months:

  • Legalized new accessory apartments through a permit program, which encourages owner occupancy and provides an avenue for affordable home ownership
  • Established a council-appointed Business Relations Committee, which provides a forum for businesses to discuss development issues, make recommendations to improve the business climate, and provide input on the town’s economic development initiatives
  • Participated in preliminary discussions about the Old Blacksburg Middle School redevelopment, which will be one of the biggest land use issues facing Blacksburg in 2018
  • Voted to issue general obligation capital improvement bonds to finance almost $4.8 million in town infrastructure projects, ranging from roof replacements and sidewalk projects, to the golf course renovation and a feasibility study for a new police station
  • Voted for an ordinance to make street parking permits cheaper and improve the operation and enforcement of the permit parking system, along with a separate ordinance to create limited residential permit parking zones
  • Updated the apartment recycling ordinance to make recycling more convenient for residents
  • Accepted a donation of park land from the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors
  • Continued to advocate for our fair share of transportation funding as a town representative on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (I was also appointed to the SmartWay Advisory Committee)

Continue reading “A look back at 2017”

Accessory apartments

Tonight, I was proud to vote in favor of an ordinance to establish an accessory apartment permit program in Blacksburg. This is an issue that has been championed by Vice Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith over the years and came into fruition today.

These apartments go by many names: mother-in-law suites, basement apartments, garage apartments, granny flats, etc. They were popular in the early part of the 20th century but fell out of favor after World War II when suburban-style development began to take hold. In Blacksburg, they were allowed until 1976, when a town ordinance banned the construction of new accessory apartments due to concerns about occupancy, parking, and neighborhood character. In recent years, towns and cities around the country have begun to reconsider this housing type. I am pleased that Blacksburg has passed an ordinance that, while allowing accessory apartments, protects our neighborhoods and quality of life. Continue reading “Accessory apartments”