Council rezones Roland E. Cook property

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VINTON–Vinton Town Council moved along the re-development of the Roland E. Cook School by Old School Partners, LLC, by voting to rezone the property from R-2 (residential) to Mixed Use Development (MUD) after a public hearing on November 17.

Mayor Brad Grose, Councilwoman Sabrina McCarty, and Councilman Doug Adams formed a quorum to approve the ordinance in the absence of Vice Mayor Matt Hare and Councilwoman Janet Scheid.

Vinton Town Council votes to rezone Roland E. Cook property to Mixed Use Development.
Vinton Town Council votes to rezone Roland E. Cook property to Mixed Use Development.

The rezoning is the culmination of a long process which began with public meetings to discuss the future of the property in 2013 through more recent work sessions with the Planning Commission and town council, an Open House at nearby Vinton Wesleyan Church, and approval by the Planning Commission.

Old School Partners, LLC, will convert the historic school into 21 upscale residential apartments with supporting recreational/small business uses.

The Old School Partners development team was formed specifically for this project and is made up of landscape architect David Hill, the president of Hill Studio, developer Dale Wilkinson, builder Greg Rhodes, and attorney David Spigle.

They are awaiting approval of historic tax credits from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) in December and expect construction to get underway in the spring of 2016 and to be completed in the spring of 2017.

Hill presented an abbreviated version of the development plans to council on November 17. The renovations will preserve the historic character of the school, add 25 parking spaces onsite, preserve the memorial trees on the school property, and add an elevator and ramps to meet ADA requirements.

Anita McMillan, Director of Planning and Zoning, told council that the town has reached out to neighbors of the property but only had responses from two—Jim Peters who sent an email in favor of the re-development plans and Dawn Hale who expressed some reservations in a letter.

Doug Forbes spoke at the hearing in favor of the rezoning. In fact, Forbes and his wife have “reserved a spot” in the building on the third floor level. He said that they both grew up in Vinton and attended Roland E. Cook. His mother was a member of the first class in 1915.

Mayor Grose stated that the rezoning and renovations will be a “giant step toward revitalizing another part of the downtown neighborhood.” Councilman Adams remarked that his mother-in-law had also been a student at Roland E. Cook.

The gymnasium area at Roland E. Cook Elementary will be preserved to satisfy DHR requirements.
The gymnasium area at Roland E. Cook Elementary will be preserved to satisfy DHR requirements.

In other action, council recognized Officers Scott Giles and Jordan Keith as Officers of the Month for October 2015 for their actions in a traffic accident involving the railroad crossing at Walnut and Eighth Street.

After a public hearing, Council adopted an ordinance to grant a 20 year Gas Franchise to Roanoke Gas Company to provide natural gas services to the town. The current agreement expires on December 31, 2015. This renewal action was thoroughly discussed at a previous council meeting. The town staff has worked with Roanoke City, the City of Salem, and Roanoke County on this agreement.

According to a staff report, “the consensus of the managers of each locality is that the overall structure and financial tax structure is fair and equitable. This allows for a more even playing field for customers and prospective industries.”

Council members adopted a resolution approving the one-time payment of $2,748 to Vinton Baptist Church as a parking and pavement contribution. Vinton Baptist generously shares its parking lot with the public outside of church hours and for special events such as the Dogwood and Fall Festivals, parades, and other events. The payment amounts to 50% of the cost of applying crack sealant, spraying sealant over the entire parking lot, and restriping.

There was also approval of accepting a donation of $6,000 from the Roanoke County Friends of the Library for the purchase of two streetlights in the vicinity of the library to match those recently installed on Pollard Street and Lee Avenue through the downtown revitalization project funded by the CDBG grant.

Town Manager Chris Lawrence officially and publicly announced that he will be leaving on January 1, 2016, to accept a position as Deputy Town Manager for Community Development in Blacksburg.

The mayor and council expressed their sadness at his leaving, thanked him for his outstanding service to the town for seven years, and wished him well. The mayor assured the citizens of Vinton that the town is in good hands with the exceptional department heads and employees of the town and that “services will continue as usual” while a successor is being selected.

Grose thanked Human Resources Director Donna Collins for her tireless work in filling several vacancies which have arisen in the town.

Council approved the appointment of Theresa Fontana as Town Attorney.

In a briefing prior to the regular council meeting, Lawrence briefed council on a restructuring of the Captain/Department Head position in the Vinton Fire and EMS Department. This action was necessitated by the switch to 24-hour paid fire protection in the past year.

Current staffing provides for one town Captain—Chris Linkous—who works on a 24-hour shift meaning that he works nine days in a 28 day cycle. There are also two county captains.

However, Linkous also functions as the department head over the Town of Vinton career staff for the Vinton Fire and EMS department.  His duties include supervision of staff, service delivery to the public, overseeing building maintenance, HR, budgeting, and special projects. These duties have become increasingly difficult to manage with his schedule of working the nine 24-hour shifts, some of which are weekends and holidays and have limited his communication with the town manager and staff.

The town staff and Fire and EMS department have suggested that Linkous’s position be changed to Deputy Chief, working on a 12-hour shift, four days Monday through Friday on a rotating basis.  He will be supported by three 24-hour Captains who will run the day-to-day operations of the station. The deputy chief will respond to emergency calls as the eighth person and officer of the ladder truck. This restructuring will have no impact on the budget and does not require action by council.

McMillan briefed council on the status of the VDOT Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (OIPI) Urban Development Areas (UDA) Planning Grant in the amount of $65,000 which the town has received. The town does not receive cash from this grant, but the services of two consultants who will assist the town in identifying at least one Urban Development Area in the downtown area or in the corridors. Participation generally results in funding of projects by VDOT.

Several property or business owners have agreed to serve on the UDA Planning Grant Steering Committee including Stephanie Mead, Angie Chewning, Tim Greenway, Allison Finney, Bob Lewis, Bruce Mayer, Chris McCarty, and Roger Saunders.

Other committee members include the town manager, Councilwoman Janet Scheid, Bob Benninger from the Board of Zoning Appeals, Dawn Michelsen from the Planning Commission with Dave Jones as her alternate, McMillan, Public Works Director Gary Woodson, and Phil Thompson, Deputy Director of Planning for Roanoke County. Their first meeting is scheduled for November 30.

Council will be meeting in special sessions on November 23 and 30 and on December 2 to move forward the process of hiring a new Chief of Police.