BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – In a staff report compiled for the City Planning Commission, Bristol, Virginia officials weighed in on a potential new residential development coming to The Falls.
You can read the document in full below:
The report was created to outline the impact of a special zoning exemption that Falls Development LLC, the property’s owner, applied for to allow multi-family housing in the middle of the retail complex. The request is not for rezoning of the area as a whole, but rather a one-time exception for the new residential buildings.
According to the report, the city expects roughly 180 rental units with a combination of 1,2 and 3 bedroom floor plans to be constructed across six buildings. Apart from the apartment buildings themselves, an additional leasing Club House/Leasing Office building is planned alongside a central green area with a playground.
To be granted the exception, city staff are asked to weigh in on several questions regarding commercial, traffic and safety impacts as well as the expected financial impact on the city. Community development and planning director Jay Detrick requested feedback from relevant officials, and compiled them in the report for the council.
What does Bristol, VA management think?
In terms of traffic, transportation manager Melanie Fleenor said residential areas don’t generate as much traffic as similarly sized retail developments, so the change would have little impact.
Power utilities in the area were unconcerned with the new development, and local water and sewer company Phillip King did not comment.
For city services, Fleenor also mentioned that the new development would be along the city’s bus transit route. Hydrant access and fire protection in the area would be “acceptable,” Bristol, VA fire marshal Eric Blevins said, with higher-than-average hydrant flows and road sizes compared to other neighborhoods.
The report said no police commented on the matter. The expected financial impacts of the change on nearby properties were not listed in the report either.
The landscaping and layout of the project was an area of concern for public works director Wallace McCulloch, who said it “needs some work” overall. McCulloch said a proposed new street would need adjusting, and suggested that additional landscaping be added along Merchant Trace/Cabela Drive and Falls Boulevard.
The largest issue listed in the report was from fire chief Mike Armstrong, who was concerned that the addition of so many new residents could quickly overwhelm EMS services.
“There have been eight vehicle crashes in that area in the past twelve months,” Armstrong said. “With 180 apartment units multiplied by the number of new tenants in each unit, I would expect a dramatic increase to our annual EMS calls.”
Armstrong predicted a rough increase of 102 medical calls in the area per year, which could stretch resources thin.
“Bottom line is while I welcome all new development in the City,” Armstrong said. “I am worried about the demands being placed on the Fire Department’s resources now and in the coming years with new development.”
The change in use could also represent a change in revenue, city surveyor Chuck Brewster said. While the property would be taxed based on its appraised value, the loss of sales taxes from the lot could trim down what the city expects at the bottom line.
McCulloch also weighed in on the mixed-use nature of the project, and expressed concerns that residents in the area might grow tired and complain about the nearby commercial area. Detrick told News Channel 11 that while the new area is allowed a mixed-use exception, Downtown Bristol is also a fully-zoned mixed-use area that hasn’t seen much in the way of complaints.
Overall, Detrick’s office recommended the exception’s approval and the measure passed 4-1 in Bristol, Virginia’s City Council Monday night. Some of the key factors in the recommendation came from a growing lack of rental availability in the city.
“From 2011 to 2021 vacancy rates for housing has dropped from 6.3% to 2.5%,” the report reads. That number is half of the 5% ideal rate for the city. In a scan of local listings, Detrick’s office found no available rental units online.
With a reported 82% of Bristol, Virginia’s workforce commuting to work, Detrick told Channel 11 that moving those workers in to support nearby businesses is a high priority for the city. With upcoming expansions from Hard Rock and Amazon into the area, Detrick expected even more pressure on the local market.
From an EMS perspective, the report said the same concerns of new calls would be true for a housing development anywhere in the city without the potential to pull in new retail investments nearby.
While the lot remains vacant, the project is one step closer to creation as of the council vote.