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Livable Built Environment | PC Draft

Vision: In 2040, Roanoke is a growing, historic cultural hub with: vibrant neighborhoods for all; housing that is safe, accessible, affordable, and varied; advanced technology to provide access opportunities for all,  connected by an integrated multi-modal, user-friendly transportation system.

In the history of the City of Roanoke, there have been periods of growth and decline and rebirth.  Chartered in 1884, the City of Roanoke followed previous settlement in the Roanoke Valley that built upon the location along transportation routes; first the Great Warrior Path used by Native Americans, then the Great Wagon Road “locally known as the Carolina Road” used by settlers in the Colonial period, and then by railroads that sought to transport materials, particularly coal, in the 1800’s.

When the area was chosen as the junction for the Shenandoah Valley and Norfolk and Western railroad, Roanoke was formed and grew with the jobs created by the railroad and supporting industry.  As pictured in the annexation map , Roanoke grew quickly through the early years of its existence as a city and annexed surrounding property based on the growth of the City.

The City of Roanoke is unique in that it has a long history of planning for its future in a comprehensive manner to best serve present and future generations. In 1907, when the City of Roanoke had grown to a population of 30,000 people, a local group of women hired John Nolen to create a report on how the City of Roanoke could be best developed.  The report, with accompanying plans, was broad in scope and recommended changes throughout the City including: the street network, major streets and streetscapes; provision for parks, parkways (known today as greenways), and playgrounds throughout the City; the placement of buildings within certain areas; and regional planning.  Although the report and plan was not a regulatory document, many items within this first comprehensive planning effort were carried out over time.

Today, Roanoke continues to be a city whose citizens desire to grow in the best manner possible to serve both existing and future generations.

Map of Roanoke Character Districts

City of Roanoke Virginia |
Current city boundaries in 2020.

Today, the City of Roanoke has an area of just over 42 square miles, most of which have been built out.  Within this compact area, the community is made up of a series of neighborhoods: a strong downtown, complete neighborhoods with neighborhood centers, neighborhoods without neighborhood centers, commercial and industrial centers, and parks and natural areas linked by a transportation network that is also linked to the surrounding region.

In recognition of the benefits and challenges with the existing built form of the City of Roanoke, community members, businesses, and City staff worked together to strategize eight priorities that will help ensure that the built environment of Roanoke continues to evolve in the best manner possible to serve both existing and future generations in making the City a vibrant place to live, learn, work, play and visit.  Within each of these overarching priorities, are both policies, and more detailed action items, which will ensure that there are measurable milestones and accountability built into this plan.

Priority One: Growth Through Preservation and Context Sensitive Design

As a steadily growing city, Roanoke recognizes the need to plan for increasing population. Policies for this priority focus on compact development that takes into account surrounding neighborhood characteristics and patterns, and nearby natural assets.

Action Items:

  • Proposed development (infill development, alterations, renovations, and additions) should create or enhance a distinctive character that relates well to the surrounding community
  • Develop design standards reflective of the most-beloved examples of local community character
  • Increase compact development patterns in neighborhoods while retaining community character
  • Allow multiunit and cluster housing types that are compatible in scale and character with detached single-family homes

Action Items:

  • Protect rivers and streams through revised riparian buffer requirements
  • Increase tree canopy requirements
  • Incentivize trees and neighborhood beautification
  • Update the zoning ordinance to include best-practice development standards that preserve important natural areas

Action Items:

  • Develop and update a citywide preservation plan
  • Assist historic property owners to obtain historic tax and building renovation credits
  • Review and revise Architectural Design Guidelines to improve clarity and respond to new technologies and materials

Action Items:

  • Support significant development projects when endorsed by the neighborhood
  • Incentivize rehabilitation of underutilized buildings
  • Evaluate incentives for reuse of existing buildings, abatement, and water and sewer tap fees

Priority Two: Complete Neighborhoods

Roanoke recognizes the importance of neighborhoods that provide safe and convenient access to a variety of goods and services including: housing options, commercial services, schools and places of worship, open space, and civic amenities.  Policies for this priority focus on a complete neighborhood built at a human scale that meets the needs of people of all ages and abilities.

Action Items:

  • Regularly update neighborhood plans every ten years, evaluating and recommending specific opportunities for complete neighborhoods, future land use, placemaking, housing, economic development, connectivity, and open space
  • Involve neighborhood organizations, civic groups, and businesses in the development and implementation of neighborhood plans
  • Prioritize plans for neighborhoods identified as potential target areas for community development funding

Action Items:

  • Identify and prioritize potential neighborhood center areas to target support
  • Develop a strategy for improving existing neighborhood centers, redeveloping underutilized centers, and creating new centers in key locations in the neighborhood planning process
  • Allow a wide variety of housing, employment, shopping, recreation, and transportation options within each neighborhood center
  • Cluster community-serving facilities within neighborhood centers to increase accessibility for all
  • Use the public realm to create unique features within each neighborhood center that serve as a focal point for the area

Action Items:

  • Create a transportation mobility plan prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle accommodations
  • Update and adopt street design guidelines prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle accommodations
  • Prioritize capital improvement projects to address neighborhood center areas
  • Strengthen streetscape connections between neighborhood centers and surrounding residential areas by: installing missing sidewalks, crosswalks, and shared use paths, and upgrading pedestrian infrastructure in poor condition
  • Create pedestrian area plans with right-of-way improvements tailored to the surrounding development context
  • Increase multimodal accessibility within neighborhoods
  • Provide signage linking community areas

Action Items:

  • Require all new and major redevelopment of commercial corridors and commercial centers to compliment and transition well into the surrounding neighborhoods
  • Allow a wide variety of uses that serve surrounding neighborhoods along with the broader community
  • Provide multimodal connections from neighborhoods to, along, and through the commercial corridor and/or large commercial center

Priority Three: Interactive Spaces

Roanoke recognizes that vibrant spaces for gathering create a sense of community and social interaction. Policies for this priority focus on creating physical, public places for people to come together.

Action Items:

  • Use the public realm to create unique features within each neighborhood center such as plazas, squares, and enhanced pedestrian areas that serve as focal points for the area
  • Public spaces should be designed to support multiple activities, be comfortable for both individuals and groups, provide seating opportunities and appropriate lighting, and be accessible for users of all abilities
  • Public spaces should be easily accessible by all modes of transportation
  • Paths along which pedestrians move should be safe and engaging
  • Promote partnerships to assist in the development of interactive spaces

Action Items:

  • Public spaces should include common and useable open space surrounded by active uses
  • Public spaces should be designed to support multiple activities, be comfortable for both individuals and groups, provide seating opportunities and appropriate lighting, and be accessible for users of all abilities
  • Require wide sidewalks in commercial areas

Action Items:

  • Implement the Roanoke Parks and Recreation Master Plan
  • Create parks so that citizens are within a 10 minute walk of a park
  • Promote partnerships to assist in the development of park spaces

Priority Four: Housing

Roanoke recognizes the need for housing in a range of types and levels of affordability. Policies for this priority focus on meeting the future needs of a growing and diverse population.

Action Items:

  • Perform a housing study to look at trends, needs, and current conditions of housing in the City
  • Incentivize development that includes affordability, accessibility, and context sensitive design components
  • Develop programs that enable homeowners to make continual investments to keep homes safe, accessible, and well maintained
  • Continue to allocate HOME and CDBG funds to non-profit affordable housing developers for new housing and renovation of existing housing for low income homeowners and tenants
  • Prioritize funding to affordable housing near neighborhood centers

Action Items:

  • Maintain effective code enforcement operations
  • Maintain effective relationships with neighborhoods to share ways to maintain properties
  • Continue to support the city’s rental inspection program and consider program expansion to cover new housing types/arrangements, as appropriate

Action Items:

  • Consider ways to introduce different housing types into neighborhoods that lack housing diversity while being mindful of and responsive to concerns about neighborhood character, design, and maintenance
  • Study the locations and characteristics of exemplary Missing Middle housing examples (local) that successfully fit into a neighborhood setting.  Use those findings to guide policies and standards for creating multiunit housing types in neighborhood settings
  • Encourage the development of larger Missing Middle housing buildings near neighborhood centers
  • Explore alternative living arrangements near neighborhood centers
  • Permit accessory dwelling units in all residential zones

Priority Five: Arts and Culture

Roanoke recognizes the impact arts and culture has on community well-being and tourism. Policies for this priority focus on integrating arts and cultural activities in physical design, and neighborhood revitalization strategies that highlight local talent.

Action Items:

  • Implement and update the Arts and Cultural Plan
  • Include art, culture, and history as an element of all future neighborhood plans
  • Incentivize art as a part of development and redevelopment projects
  • Include public art as part of all public facilities, public spaces, and streetscape improvement projects
  • Develop public art projects within neighborhood centers

Action Items:

  • Allow artist studio and arts center use in all multipurpose districts
  • Create a formal mural program process

Priority Six: Regional Transportation Approach

Roanoke recognizes the need to cooperate with regional partners to improve transportation. Policies for this priority focus on improving regional transportation connections and options.

Action Items:

  • Prioritize pedestrian, bicycle, and transit accommodations in and between neighborhood centers
  • Support additional train service, flights, and bus service
  • Support seamless paratransit services between localities

Action Items:

  • Coordinate transportation improvements that impact the region with partner localities and authorities
  • Create accessible transportation routes
  • Complete the greenway system by implementing the Greenway Plan
  • Integrate and improve mobility
  • Expand public transit

Action Items:

  • Coordinate transit services with surrounding localities
  • Improve and maintain transit stops with amenities such as shelters, posted schedules, benches, bike racks, and trash cans along all routes, prioritizing highest used routes first
  • Extend service hours to include each day of the week
  • Require right-of-way or easements for bus shelter in development and redevelopment

Priority Seven: Complete Streets

Roanoke recognizes the need for streets that are safe for all users. Policies for this priority focus on improved infrastructure and education on all modes of transportation, such as bicycling and walking.

Action Items:

  • Update Complete Streets Guidelines to prioritize the pedestrian and bicycle experience within neighborhoods
  • Align capital improvement program, neighborhood planning, and development standards to expand complete streets
  • Coordinate street improvements between various departments
  • Expand programs to allow temporary closure of streets for public use more frequently
  • Encourage common parking areas to enable access to multiple places/uses

Action Items:

  • Conduct and maintain a sidewalk and crosswalk inventory
  • Require sidewalk construction or replacement along streets and for circulation between buildings and activity areas as part of all development projects, unless scale is minimal
  • Improve pedestrian systems through planting shade trees, adding pedestrian scale lights, and street furniture
  • Increase funding for pedestrian system improvements

Action Items:

  • Expand, improve, and maintain on-street bicycle networks
  • Expand the use of bike lanes to include other slow moving vehicles such as scooters, electric bicycles, etc.
  • Revise the zoning ordinance to require bicycle parking
  • Increase the number of bicycle racks in neighborhood centers to provide on-street bicycle parking
  • Increase funding for bicycle network improvements

Action Items:

  • Create and implement the Vision Zero Action Plan to reduce injury and death
  • Base design standards for motorized vehicular systems around typical system usage throughout year, not peak periods

Action Items:

  • Encourage multimodal education within the school system
  • Request increasing multimodal education requirements within state driver education requirements
  • Provide multimodal education to residents within the City

Priority Eight: Improve Infrastructure

Roanoke recognizes the need for infrastructure that allows all areas of the community to grow and develop as proposed in the prior listed priorities.

Action Items:

  • Increase funding to support identified and prioritized needs from other plans and policies
  • Underground utilities (water, sewer, natural gas, electrical…)
  • Increase access to broadband
  • Adequate wireless service throughout the City consistent with the Wireless Telecommunications Policy

Action Items:

  • Obtain data for informed decisions
  • Plan for climate context storm events

There are no Action Items for this Policy.

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