Carilion property to remain wooded in wake of end of controversial plan for apartments

After 14 months of controversy over a proposed development, Carilion Clinic is ready to leave the undeveloped part of the former Shenandoah Life Insurance Co. property alone for a while.

“There are no plans for the property at this point,” Carilion Vice President for Marketing and Communications Mike Dame said in a Statement Friday. “And given the important work that we are doing to improve community health, this is not among our top priorities.”

Dame said the company never sought to sell the land, but was approached by North Carolina developer Berkley Hall, which wanted to erect a 12-building apartment complex there. After more than a year of planning and study and multiple extensions of a purchase option, the developer abruptly told Carilion last month it would not buy the land.

Young urged a “polite, informative” letter writing campaign to persuade Carilion to place the land in a conservation easement to both protect it and allow Carilion to raise up to $1 million in the process.

But while the immediate controversy has passed, it’s a harbinger of what’s to come in Roanoke as it grinds ahead slowly in growing population and seeks more young professionals and students more inclined to rent than buy a home.

It also reflects on the city’s past growth, and the history of the very site where the controversy erupted.

Carilion could have communicated better

Berkley Hall’s plan to build more than 200 apartments on the mostly wooded 17-acre site, in retrospect, proved discomforting for all involved — neighbors who opposed it, Carilion, which struggled with a potential bruising of its brand and standing as a corporate citizen, and even Berkley Hall, which walked away after investing an untold amount in plans and engineering over 14 months.

It remains unclear why the developer abandoned the project. Berkley Hall owners Mark Reynolds and Mike Murray did not respond to emails last week. Carilion officials deferred to the developer. But the popular speculation is that the cost of development was too much due to the hilly topography on the site, which required major regrading and soaring retaining walls.

Carilion bought the former insurance company headquarters in 2015 for $4.6 million. Shenandoah Life had gone into receivership and while it survived, the company was much smaller and didn’t need an 88,000-square-foot building on 27 acres.

Proponents of preserving the woodlands continue to contact Carilion, Dame said, and the company has set up a dedicated email address to receive ideas for land: Parkview@carillionclinic.org.

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