WINCHESTER — A divided City Council has approved a new apartment complex designed to accommodate Shenandoah University (SU) students and young professionals.
The Local at 1551 S. Pleasant Valley Road will include 198 one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments within a single four-story building, a parking deck for residents and two small buildings that will be leased for commercial use, all located on a 6.23-acre parcel of vacant land adjacent to the former Fresh Market grocery store at 1671 S. Pleasant Valley Road.
Shenandoah University is not affiliated with the private development project. However, since the proposed apartments are within walking distance of SU, property owner Jay Donegan of Reston and developer William Park of Pinnacle Construction and Development Corp. of Charlottesville anticipate that up to 80% of the more than 400 residents of the 258,000-square-foot complex would be college students. The remaining apartments would be marketed to young professionals.
The prospect of hundreds of SU students walking across the busy South Pleasant Valley Road retail corridor to get to class gave pause to several councilors, including Corey Sullivan.
"Pleasant Valley Road is just not a residential corridor. It wasn't designed that way," Sullivan said. "Time and time again, I have to vote my conscience on this kind of stuff."
Other councilors noted that a high number of SU students already cross the busy roads in that area because they live in nearby off-campus housing. For example, the former Clarion Inn and Conference Center at 711 Millwood Ave. was leased by SU last year and converted to student housing and dining.
"They're crossing back and forth on Pleasant Valley right now," Councilor Richard Bell said.
Winchester Public Services Director Perry Eisenach said the traffic signals on the streets surrounding SU's campus, including South Pleasant Valley Road and Millwood Avenue, are timed to allow groups of up to 10 pedestrians at a time to cross safely. The timing could be adjusted to give pedestrians more time to cross, but that would further slow vehicle traffic in an already congested area.
Mayor David Smith lamented council's decision in July to not seek state funding for a pedestrian bridge that would allow people to cross Millwood Avenue safely. That measure failed after councilors determined the bridge would primarily be used by SU students, so they said the school should be responsible for paying for it.
"Now look where we are," Smith said.
Park said he plans to finance The Local using a loan from the Virginia Housing Development Authority, which carries a condition that at least 5% of the apartments in the complex would have to be rented at rates affordable for working-class individuals. On Tuesday, he sweetened the deal by saying he would classify 20% of the apartments as affordable workforce housing.
Councilors Sullivan, Les Veach and Kim Herbstritt were not swayed by Park's offer and voted to reject The Local. However, the remaining six council members — Smith, Bell, Evan Clark, Judy McKiernan, John Hill and Phillip Milstead — voted in favor of the proposal, clearing the way for construction to begin. A date has not been announced.
The approval marks a significant turnaround for City Council. In October, councilors indicated they were inclined to reject the apartment complex, so the developer asked the item be tabled long enough for him to address their concerns.
When The Local returned to council in December, it included several changes, including the parking deck and a 6-foot-tall privacy fence that would shield the apartment complex from the single-family homes located behind it on Spring Street.