Debate continues over potential coffee shop in Fishburn Park

Published: Apr. 26, 2023 at 6:51 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Controversy is brewing over plans for a coffee shop in Fishburn Park.

Rezoning and vacating public use signs are going up around the abandoned caretaker’s cottage. Justin and Keri vanBlaricom want to turn it into “Fishburn Perk” coffee house. The idea came from their kids and their desire to impact the community.

“We’ve been dating since we were in high school, and we used to play in that park and sleigh riding and everything,” explained Justin. “So, we’ve driven past that house a lot. It was just the perfect place to have a coffee shop.”

But some neighbors are concerned.

“It’s not either for or against the coffee shop or whatever business would go into the house,” said Blue Ridge SWCD District Director Freeda Cathcart. “It’s losing so much land that we’re concerned about.”

The current proposal states the vanBlaricoms would purchase the cottage and 1.1 acres of land for $10.

“We find that unacceptable and unreasonable,” said Grandin Court Neighborhood Association President Owen McGuire. “But what we’re saying is that we’d be willing to give them or to agree to .6 acres, is what’s been proposed.”

The vanBlaricoms say they will have to invest more than $150 thousand into the cottage - they’re leveraging the land to get that money.

“The cottage was under contract a couple of years ago and that person pulled away because the cost of fixing up the cottage was more than the value of the cottage,” said Justin. “So, we need to make sure we’re protected on that standpoint.”

Other concerns from neighbors are preserving the land for Roanoke Parks and Recreation, public safety due to the narrow street, and property values going down in the surrounding neighborhood.

“It’s the public’s loss of access to the only open usable green space that’s left in the park,” said Cathcart. “And there are concerns that down the road that there could be more development there.”

The vanBlaricoms say they plan to build a community garden and leave the space for public use.

“Having the whole acre does preserve it for the future, past five years, forever. Because we chose to deed that property if it’s sold to us,” said Keri.

Here is the list of restrictions from the application stating what the property can be used for: “office, general or professional; community market; bakery, confectionary or similar food production; retail; club, lodge, civic or social organization; community center; eating ... [or] eating and drinking establishment abutting a residential district; meeting hall; artist studio; community garden and accessory use not otherwise listed.”

Some neighbors are in support of the coffee shop. Here is a petition with over 600 signatures.

Here is a petition against the coffee shop with over 50 signatures. Cathcart says they have also been canvassing and have collected over 400 signatures opposing the idea.

There are three upcoming opportunities for you to voice your opinion. There is a neighborhood association meeting at the Grandin Court Baptist Church May 2 at 7 p.m. There is a Roanoke Planning Commission Meeting at 1:30 p.m., which includes a public hearing. Then there will be a city council meeting where they will make the final decision. This also includes a public hearing meeting. It will be May 12.