County supervisors delay request for third-year housing

Rachel Stone

Before Washington and Lee can say if current first-years will be affected by third-year housing, the proposal must receive zoning approval from both the city and the county.

The County Board of Supervisors will re-evaluate the zoning request at the November meeting, and Lexington City Council will consider it on Nov. 20. Since the university lies on the border of the city and the county, it needs approval from both.

Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors expressed their concerns in the Oct. 27 meeting about W&L’s parking plan and the possibility of increased traffic in regards to the third-year housing proposal.

“I’ve been over to the university many times, especially on the weekend,” said board member Russell Ford. “And I don’t think that there is any doubt that that many parking spaces will be needed.”

Executive Director of Communications Brian Eckert disagrees. University Facilities originally worked with the Virginia Department of Transportation to study the possible traffic issues. No significant concerns were found.

“But questions have been raised regarding parking and traffic by county and city officials,” said Eckert. “And we’re working with both local governments to find mutually satisfactory solutions.”

Until such conclusions have been reached, the housing project cannot move forward.

Tom Contos, a university architect and planner, said the housing plan includes the construction of 72 apartments and townhouses with 1.5  parking spaces per unit.

Ford said the university proposed the expansion of “student housing.” This means there will only be 1.5 spaces per unit of four to six students. Ford expressed concern that almost every student will have a car on campus, and thus require more spaces than the university has planned.

“I don’t have a problem with the development,” said Ford. “I just think [the university] was looking to take the path of least resistance.”

But some at the university disagree.

“As we look at traffic, those students [who live off campus] drive to campus now,” said Dean of Students Sidney Evans. “I actually think there will be less traffic on a daily basis because they’ll be parked on campus and walking to class for the most part rather than driving to campus.”

Many students agree that it is unlikely to increase traffic.

“I don’t have a car on campus,” said sophomore Lauren Revere. “And actually, I think that having juniors on campus may mean fewer students will bring cars since they can walk to class.”

Ford said it is a logical argument.  But legally, the university should provide enough additional parking to accommodate for this potential increase in on-campus traffic.

The Board of Trustees voted in favor of the housing project in their meeting on Oct. 25.

James Farrar, secretary of the university, said construction should be complete by the fall of 2016.

“The members of the Board of Trustees are unanimous in their support of the third-year housing project,” said Farrar. “And are eager to see the project get underway.”

Eckert understands the critical role of communication in this decision.

“Local citizens have said they need more information, and that is perfectly reasonable,” Eckert said. “This is an example of good government in action.”