Roanoke City Council declines rezoning request for Fishburn Park

Published: May. 15, 2023 at 11:39 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke City Council has shot down a request to rezone a portion of Fishburn Park that would bring a coffee shop to the area, in a 6-1 vote against. This came after a unanimous approval from the planning commission, which cited it would bring a positive economic impact to the city.

Justin and Keri vanBlaricom have envisioned rezoning 1.1 acres in Fishburn Park. The plan: turn the caretaker’s cabin into a coffee shop and leave the rest of the property open to the public.

“The idea is that the green space around the cabin itself remain open, both to our patrons and to the public to use it and frequent the coffee shop upon your approval. Our hope is that our kids’ dreams and their friends and things of that nature get to have an amenity as an addition to the park and not to detract from that space in any way, shape or form,” said Keri.

Residents have had mixed reactions and whether they were for or against, showed up in full force to the public hearing Monday. Those against have voiced their concerns over the amount of land the vanBlaricoms will come into possession of and the future of the area.

“I’m just letting you all know that how disappointed I am, that our neighborhood hasn’t been respected, the needs of the neighborhood haven’t been respected,” said Freeda Cathcart, speaking at the early portion of City Council.

Those in support spoke about what a special addition it would be to the area.

“Keri and Justin lived in Grandin Court, they played in Fishburn Park. They are wanting to bring something back to the community, back to the neighborhood, where everyone I have spoke with want this project to go through,“ said Dalton Baugess.

Council members shared they are worried about what the future of this property might look like if the proposal was approved.

“I’m concerned with the future and the people who will be sitting up on this dais that come past my time in the unit. Once you have rezoning come in the amendments, they come pretty easy. We see those and they get approved almost with flying colors. That is the true concern I have with rezoning this entire piece of property. And if the rezoning had been minutely focused on the piece that truly needs to be developed, and the rest of it have been kept recreation open space, I would feel more comfortable being in support of it,” said Councilman Luke Priddy.

Vice Mayor Joe Cobb was the only member to vote in favor of the project.

“I want to commend everyone for your attention to the details of all of this, I think that’s great testament to how important this is to all of us. To the vanBlaricoms, I want to say that you have gone, in my opinion, above and beyond in terms of being amenable to listening and making changes and it’s clear to me that you care very much of the stewardship of this land,” said Cobb.