Roanoke County planners seek input on vision for future growth of Hollins

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ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7) Thousands drive through the intersection of Williamson and Plantation roads every day.

Most are just passing through, but Roanoke County leaders believe this spot could one day be a destination: a place where people come to work and live.

"The Hollins area is one of the most viable investment opportunities in Roanoke County," said Roanoke County's Economic Development Director, Jill Loope.

For more than a year, Loope and county planners have been working on a vision for how Hollins might grow between now and 2040.

"I think it will serve as a catalyst for Hollins to look very different in the future," Loope said.

Through a process called "Reimagine Hollins," county leaders have developed a plan for what they call "Hollins Center": a mixed-use, walkable community with stores, restaurants, and living spaces.

Similar developments have already been constructed in Lynchburg. One is the Wyndhurst community. Built in the early 2000's, it features amenities and density that you find in a traditional downtown area.

"You live, work, play, and dine all in the same location," said Roanoke County's acting director of planning, Philip Thompson, describing the "town center concept."

The Reimagine Hollins process isn't just focused on one intersection. Planners are looking at a broad area that includes Interstate 81 and the neighborhoods around Hollins University.

"It's allowing us to target areas, sites, and investment of public resources into a previously underutilized area," said Loope.

While many parts of Hollins have been developed for years and include major employers like Wells Fargo and Double Envelope, Loope says a lot of undeveloped land remains.

There are also existing, vacant buildings that she says can be redeveloped with new stores and living spaces.

County leaders say they want to develop a plan now so that development can occur, without disrupting the lives of people who already live in Hollins.

"It's always a tricky, delicate balance when you try to attract certain types of retail opportunities and commercial opportunities to an area that has not previously been on the radar screen," said Loope.

As the plan for Hollins has been in development, meetings have been held to get feedback from residents and business owners.

"They told us information and we used that information to build the vision and goals for the overall plan," said Thompson.

Some of the things people want to see include more housing. They want patio homes for retirees and multi-family options like apartments.

What they don't want to see are tall buildings with extremely high density.

People also want more pedestrian options like paved trails and greenways, mass transit like a bus or trolley, and a walkable downtown area. They don't want "big box" anchor stores.

"We'll analyze that and fine tune the recommendations for the plan," said Thompson.

County leaders say more feedback is needed. They're hosting an online survey through April 26 to figure out what priorities people have. After that public hearings will be held and, eventually, county leaders hope to turn the Hollins vision into a formal plan that will guide how the county moves forward with development.

"The Hollins area plan is a vision document. It is a 20-year plan for implementation," said Loope.

And with the right input, county leaders hope the Hollins of 2040 will be an example of smart growth and a reflection of what the entire community wants to see.

You can learn more about the "Reimagine Hollins" plan and take the county's online survey by visiting: https://www.roanokecountyva.gov/reimagine