Roanoke leaders start initial talks on Evans Spring site
More than 100 acres of undeveloped land in Roanoke could one day become a site for future housing and retail.
City leaders have started initial talks on the long-term vision for the privately-owned Evans Spring property along Interstate 581. The properties form the largest undeveloped sites within the city limits. Proponents of development say it could be a huge economic boost to the city. But citizen groups contend the forested land should instead become park space.
City Council has yet to make any decisions, but has paid more than $200,000 to develop a master plan for the site.
Brenda Hale is President of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP. She says wounds have not healed from a time when urban renewal displaced many Black residents in the city’s Gainsboro neighborhood.
She also said Roanoke would lose a teaching opportunity.
“It is the last bastion of wetlands in this city,” she explained. “We have to continue on this mission, and not let this happen. Because I have the belief that once you concrete over something, you can never get it back. And there’s going to be so many consequences to this happening.”
David Jones is pastor at Williams Memorial Baptist Church, in a neighborhood close to the proposed development.
He urges city leaders to carefully contemplate the future of Evans Spring.
“In spite of any public proclamations, the people’s will may not be recognized and overturned,” he said. “That’s going to just increase the level of distrust between the community and city government. I think that would be really unfortunate.”
Jones said he's also been impressed with the input from citizens in other parts of the city who wouldn't be directly affected by an Evans Spring redevelopment.
Groups like Friends of Evans Spring contend that part of Roanoke needs a natural area to address heat index and air quality.
At a presentation before City Council Monday, Virginia Tech Urban Planning professor Theo Lim said residents of northwest Roanoke are starting to feel ignored by the leaders that represent them. He led a class project on the history of the region.
His presentation was limited to ten minutes, but Lim and other opponents were urged to attend future meetings, including a Planning Commission hearing on Evans Spring scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Councilman Luke Priddy urged fellow leaders and opponents of the plan to “engage on this together.” He said conducting hearings planned for both Monday and February 20 “give us time to digest what’s going on.”