Apartments South by South Main

Brent Finnegan -- May 18th, 2010

Last week, the Harrisonburg Planning Commission approved updated plans to build 466 “student housing” apartments in the southern part of town, between Main Street and Interstate-81. Previous plans for the site, which included 322 condos and 144 apartments, have already been approved by City Council. But the new developer, identified in today’s DNR as Richard Robert Babcock, wants 466 one, two and four bedroom apartments instead.

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In 2006, before the development was being called “student housing” in the news, the DNR reported that developer Bill Neff had planned “to break ground on Southbury Station — a development to include 466 homes on 60 acres at Boxwood Court and South Main Street.” In 2009, Southbury was mentioned again in a story about several new student housing developments that had been rezoned R5 (mixed use).

According to Doug Manners’ report in today’s Daily News-Record, “the city’s planning staff has consistently recommended that a residential development not be built on the 60-plus-acre property, citing transportation and land-use concerns in the industrial and business area,” but now they’ve warmed up to the idea. Sort of.

On WHSV, city planner Adam Fletcher called the developer’s proposed changes (to the already approved plan) “the lesser of two evils.”

“Even though we’ve always looked at it as a negative thing for the city, it’s kind of the lesser of two evils. Do we go with the approved plan or, do we go with the proposed plan? Which as we see it is better for the city,” says Fletcher.

City Council is expected to vote on the proposed changes June 8.

UPDATE: Robert Babcock, the developer, says that Bill Neff is “not associated with the actual project development.” Babcock writes:

Once completed we estimate approximately 1,500 residents or beds, not 1,800 as specified in the DNR article. Our construction timeline has not been finalized. I can say, the initial phase most likely will not be completed until fall enrollment occupancy 2012. The DNR article states 144 units by fall 2011 . . .

Babcock adds that the updated plans include bike lanes (within the property) and “substantially more open space” than comparably-zoned developments.

So it sounds like the availability of space within the city limits may be the main attraction for developers here. According to the 2006 DNR article:

The price of land on the south side of Harrisonburg is considerably lower than property in the Valley Mall area of the city, said Bill Neff, president of Neff Enterprises.

“There’s practically none available along the [U.S. 33] corridor,” Neff said. “But if you could find it, the price would be close to double what the land along South Main Street sells for.”

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