SIERRANS TESTIFY AGAINST MILL MOUNTAIN
January 24, 2008 - Three members of the
Roanoke Group leadership testified at the meeting of Mill Mountain
Advisory Committee in opposition to the development of a restaurant and
new parking lots at Mill Mountain Park. Here are excerpts from
Bill Modica (Group Vice Chair):
Mill Mountain Park is a treasure- an area of green space
located within the city limits and easily accessible for citizens and
visitors. It is valued for its quiet, its view of the city and its
peaceful setting. Contrary to what some say, it is heavily used, when
the weather permits, and conveniently closed when covered in ice and
snow. Contrast that to a struggling restaurant that must stay open
to survive, no matter how badly the lone access road is iced over, and
one that needs to operate every weekend and long into the evening in the
hopes of turning a profit. That requires many delivery trucks, lots of
staff parking spaces, more public guest parking lots for large numbers
of customers and continuous trash removal as well as lots of loud
machinery and equipment running all hours and every day. Not to even
mention the construction nightmare of bulldozers, worker vehicles and
construction materials needed to create the building in the first place.
Citizens of the Roanoke Valley (and not just the City)
have said over and over and loud and clear that they value green spaces
for the quality of life and for peaceful recreational use. They don’t
really need another restaurant -- we have more than enough in our area
already. In fact, many restaurants are already stressed trying to find
staffing and turn a profit. And once we give up our park land to
create another business venture, what do we do if it fails to capture
the business income it needs to survive? So many (over 90% I’ve
been told) don’t make it past their first year. Once it is built, what
if “they” don’t come? Who is stuck with the upkeep costs and
maintenance? Not Valley Forward, apparently.
Mill Mountain does need something, however, It needs
a conservation easement placed on it by Roanoke City Council to protect
it for the future as open space. That is the only way to insure that the
Fishburn family is not asked again and again to consider projects and
buildings up there. I support the Western Virginia Land Trust in their
call for a permanent easement to be placed on the mountain. We are one
of the few cities in the country with a whole mountain of natural beauty
inside city limits. Lets keep it that way, forever and ever.
I also don’t understand the type of thinking that leads
one to conclude that any “vacant” land needs something built on it as
soon as possible. I came to Roanoke, like many others, because it
wasn’t all covered over with buildings. I like the trees and streams and
the open fields along the roads. That is what makes this area so
wonderful. While we do need stores and houses, I know, we need woods,
wildlife and birds too. At least, I do. So let’s start putting a higher
value on recreational space, for our own use and for the future, when we
really need it, and let’s find a way to preserve what we have left.
Where we have private ownership, I ask the owners to think about the
future needs of society. Consider a conservation easement. Where we have
public ownership, I urge our government officials to see into the future
when land is scarce. Save whatever you can for our kids to enjoy. It may
be all that is left.
I recently returned from a visit to New York City. A very
busy place. Right in the middle of Manhattan is the Grand Central
Park. In fact, every borough has large parks set aside for residents to
enjoy. And all are well used, if occasionally abused. That took vision.
I wish we could show that kind of vision more often. Our Greenways
system is a good start. But it needs to be funded and finished. It needs
to be treasured and maintained. And our parks and open spaces, our
wooded mountain tops and our tree shaded riverbanks need to be protected
from those who seek a quick profit at the expense of our future needs
and at the cost of our common good. Let’s start talking about how we can
do that- save our heritage, not sell it off. That’s the discussion I
can’t wait to join in.
Annie Krochalis (ExCom Member and Smart
The Sierra Club is vitally concerned that the urban
environment, in which a majority of this country's residents and a
majority of our members live, be healthy and stimulating since the
physical state of a city reflects the well-being of its people. The
Sierra Club is also concerned that urban areas, which consume the
majority of our resources, be highly efficient and non-polluting so as
to minimize our impacts upon this planet's resources and environment.
The resolution of the Executive Committee is as follows :
"Roanoke Group of the Sierra Club opposes development of Mill Mountain
Park for commercial purposes, based on our existing policy on
development which includes the following points: 1) Natural areas
and open spaces should be preserved, 2) Public park lands should be off
limits to commercial development, and 3) Development should be
undertaken only in areas already served by adequate public
While there are no drawings to scale available yet, our
concerns are the protection of open park area from a commercial project
including two parking lots requiring retaining walls. This would require
changes to the mountain impacting water to Crystal Springs, soil and
erosion control, and reduction of green space and the existing
eco-system. There are questions about the capacity of the existing
public infrastructure to support this project, including adequate
street, water, sewer and other public services to support this facility.
Once a ridge top is lost, there is no going back in time.
I am also concerned that other projects, such as Brugh
Tavern and Explore Park have struggled while following a similar
business model. Is that loss consistent with the “Vision 2001-2020 the
City of Roanoke’s Comprehensive Plan”, the Mill Mountain Land Management
Plan, and the supplementary “Vision Implementation Report 2007” ?
These documents speak to open air concert venues.
Over the years this committee has changed from the Mill Mountain
Development Committee to the Mill Mountain Advisory Committee; just as,
over the years, bids for development of the mountain have been
defeated. Popular support in the 1960’s and 70’s for development met a
conclusive defeat in 1975 by the Mill Mountain Development Committee:
“Perhaps the committee had also begun to grasp what businessmen in
previous eras had learned the hard way—that despite its recreational
opportunities, the mountain could not sustain a profitable tourism
True progressive thinking does not repeat the failed
theories of the past. I respectfully request that the Committee honor
the intent of the Fishburn family donation and retain the current open
Mary Bishop (Area Coordinator, City of
During 18 years at the Roanoke Times I often wrote about
the city of Roanoke — its history, its neighborhoods, its many issues.
The newspaper gave me the time to study our city, to visit other cities,
and to produce detailed stories. We wanted to help citizens put Roanoke
in a larger context. We wanted Roanokers to understand how the city
became what it is today and what our future might be.
One thing I learned was how privileged we are and how
unusual it is to have a mountain park only blocks from our downtown. We
are all so lucky to have Mill Mountain. My husband and I often walk up
the mountain on Sunday afternoons. It is one of those peaceful places
where everyone can come to enjoy it, free of charge.
The city of Roanoke is making real progress in reducing
its greenhouse gas emissions and making Roanoke cleaner and greener.
In light of this, the way to move Roanoke truly "forward"
is to keep Mill Mountain free of commercial development and the
pollution that would necessarily result from it — to preserve this
precious open space. The progressive path is to leave the mountain