Monday, June 11, 2012
Editorial: Stadium Woods debate points to planning reform
More thorough review is needed when major changes are proposed to Virginia Tech's master plan.
From the RoundTable blog
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The ad hoc committee asked to help Virginia Tech resolve the hullabaloo over Stadium Woods offers wise counsel not only with regard to the matter at hand, but also in averting future hullabaloos.
The panel recommends a review of current planning policies and procedures to ensure that major deviations from the university's master plan are thoroughly vetted. The committee's report acknowledges that a master plan is a guideline, not a rule, requiring flexibility to respond to changing conditions. However, current procedures fail to adequately differentiate between innocuous variances and those that are massive and potentially controversial.
The report urges university leaders to develop criteria that would trigger a comprehensive examination of major changes to the master plan. While the committee does not address the issue of transparency, we urge Tech to include improvements that encourage openness and discussion.
The proposal to build an indoor football practice facility on part of a tract that is home to 300-year-old oak trees is a candidate for diligent review.
The committee notes the "unprecedented action" contemplated in impinging on woods designated as an environmental greenway in the master plan. Both the 2006 and 2009 master plans - documents in which officials invested much time and money - envisioned building the practice facility where tennis courts now stand. The committee advised Tech to preserve the woods, a recommendation now being considered by President Charles Steger.
As described by the committee, it took merely a "suggestion" from the athletic department that its members preferred the Stadium Woods site to kick off engineering and cost discussions and studies on stormwater and reforestation mitigation starting in 2010, when few people were aware of the proposal.
Although critics of the plan have been chided for shrieking too loudly and too soon, it appears likely that the current process would have allowed the project to solidify without a broad-based discussion if a handful of individuals hadn't raised objections publicly.
In a separate matter, the committee calls for supporters of Stadium Woods to share in the costs associated with its preservation. Some advocates bristled at the suggestion, but chairman John Randolph offers reassurance that the suggestion is not intended as a jab.
His committee's recommendation that the woods be placed under permanent protection and a management program creates opportunities for Tech and Stadium Woods supporters to find common cause in developing trails and signs that increase the prominence of the site on campus. Advocates signal a willingness to be part of that worthy cause.
While the debate over Stadium Woods is a unique chapter in Tech's history, urbanization is likely to generate new town/gown frictions and growing pains in the future. The committee's report offers sound advice on how to maneuver through those perils in a manner that cultivates good will.