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People who live near Roanoke College received assurances Monday night that a sprawling new building set to rise on campus will not cut off their foul-weather escape route from their neighborhood.
The Salem City Council approved the college's request to move an inclement weather easement in order to make way for the Cregger Center, a planned $37 million athletics facility that will rise near High Street.
Currently, the college grants an easement through a parking lot during icy weather, a path that allows drivers to avoid a dip in High Street's corridor where it intersects with Peery Drive. The Cregger Center will take up all of the parking lot, which prompted the college to ask for permission to make a new inclement weather route just a few yards to the east of the current easement.
Mike Pace, the college's lawyer, showed drawings of the Cregger Center and architectural plans for the site and the new weather route, which will be barricaded when not in use. He said that the college will provide maintenance for the easement and keep it cleared during bad weather. He also said that the current weather route "hasn't been needed or used all that much."
Several Salem residents peppered the city council and the college's architects with questions. Chiefly, residents from the High Street neighborhood wanted to learn more about the road's width and steepness, whether there would be blind spots and whether the easement will accommodate emergency vehicles.
The easement will be 20 feet wide, 4 feet narrower than the current path through the parking lot, but the road itself will be just 16 feet wide, which worried some people that the road is too narrow for more than one vehicle to squeeze through.
"What happens when you are one-half or three-quarters of the way through and somebody is right in front of you?" asked Elizabeth Freund, a resident of Walnut Road.
Pace assured the council that drivers will have clear sight lines and will be able to determine if another vehicle is in the lane before entering.
Salem Fire Chief Pat Counts told the council that the easement will be wide enough for emergency vehicles. He said that steepness would not be a problem for his department's trucks.
The council approved the college's request unanimously.
The council was split on another matter of business, however. The council approved the first reading of a request to rezone a property at 429 S. Market St. from Residential Single Family to Highway Business District in order to allow a painting company's warehouse to be built there. The council held a public hearing on the request two weeks ago but put off a decision after two Market Street residents spoke against the project.
In the end, Councilwoman Joyce Johnson said that she was satisfied with additional information provided by Irvin and Jonny Jean Webster, the owners of the property and the painting company. She moved to approve the request, which passed 3-2, with Johnson, Bill Jones and Vice Mayor John Givens voting yes and Mayor Randy Foley and Lisa Garst voting against the rezoning.
Garst said that, although she appreciated the Websters' business contributions to the city, she believed that the new business zoning would be too broad for the residential neighborhood. Foley agreed.
"I don't think this is the best use for this property," he said. "What's to prevent us from taking [Highway Business District zoning] all the way up the street?"