On behalf of the board of the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy, I’m writing to convey some thoughts regarding the development of the parcels identified in the city of Roanoke’s Evans Spring Area Plan, adopted by city council on April 15, 2013.
As the Roanoke region’s only nonprofit land conservation organization, we have partnered with the city of Roanoke on many occasions, whether it was helping secure land for the Lick Run Greenway more than 20 years ago, or holding conservation easements on two of the gems in the city’s magnificent park system, Carvins Cove Natural Reserve and Mill Mountain Park. In 2008, we honored the city of Roanoke with our highest award, the A. Victor Thomas Environmental Stewardship Award, for its conservation efforts.
I’ve served as chair of the Mill Mountain Advisory Board, and over the years, our board has included members of city council and numerous civic and business leaders from the city of Roanoke. We enjoy our strong relationship with the city, and from to time will weigh in on various city issues that intersect with our mission of land conservation.
One such issue is the development of the Evans Spring area. Evans Spring is a unique resource within the city. Although we do not want to stand in the way of sensible development of the Evans Springs area, and while some of the parcels in the city’s plan are more suitable for development than others, we believe that any development of the Evans Spring area should only be undertaken with careful consideration of several points.
First and foremost is the issue of water quality. Evans Spring is a natural freshwater spring that feeds a small pond which drains into Lick Run. Unfortunately, Lick Run does not enjoy a natural path to its confluence with Tinker Creek in Southeast Roanoke. Much of the stream is “darklighted” or buried underground, including its course through upper Washington Park. From there to its juncture with Tinker Creek, Lick Run is largely confined to artificial channels, such as those adjacent to the rear of the Berglund Center, or concrete ditches such as those found adjoining the former Norfolk Southern railyards along Campbell Avenue and Norfolk Avenue.
Any development of the properties adjoining Evans Spring and the adjacent pond has the potential to further degrade Lick Run and reduce its effectiveness as a natural community. Additional development in the Evans Spring area would likely force more stormwater more quickly into Lick Run, leading to more pollution from the city entering the Roanoke River. This runs contrary to the city’s goals of reducing polluted runoff into the Roanoke River and its tributaries, which are carried out by the city’s stormwater division.
Another point to consider is wildlife habitat. As one of the larger areas of open space in the city, many of the Evans Spring parcels provide valuable habitat for trees and plants, aquatic wildlife, birds and other species. Indeed, the Lick Run Greenway is a favorite spot for Roanoke-area birders, and many of these avian species roost, feed and reproduce in the Evans Spring natural community.
In the last 20 years, Roanoke has invested heavily in marketing its outdoor amenities to help drive economic growth in the city. Development of the Evans Spring area, which may degrade the natural community, runs counter to the countless person-hours and massive financial investment the city has made not only to brand itself as a green, outdoors-friendly city, but to actually create the infrastructure to support outdoors-friendly and active lifestyles. The future extension of Lick Run Greenway beyond the Valley View Mall area is already designated to cross through the Evans Spring area on the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission’s 2018 Greenway Plan Network Map. Development of the Evans Spring area may impact the future of this popular greenway, which provides not only recreation but a vital connection from northwest Roanoke and downtown to shopping opportunities in and around Valley View Mall.
In a similar vein, the role of the Evans Spring area in mitigating the city’s urban heat island issue cannot be understated. The city spends large amounts of time and money planting trees and trying to increase the city’s percentage of land under tree canopy. Northwest Roanoke has the least amount of tree canopy coverage in the city, and is also most susceptible to the urban heat island effect in the summer. The urban heat island creates a significant health crisis for the elderly, young and those with health problems exacerbated by high summer temperatures.
Data from the (now defunct) Greater Roanoke Valley Asthma and Air Quality Coalition showed that 18 percent of children in Roanoke have asthma. Tree cover plays an important role in reducing air pollution. Every measure should be taken to ensure that Roanoke does not thwart its own efforts to increase its tree canopy.
Much has changed in Roanoke since the adoption of the Evans Spring Area Plan in 2013. There is much greater awareness among the citizens of the negative impacts of climate change, and much stronger interest in outdoor recreation and marketing the city as an outdoors destination. The city’s Office of Sustainability has released its draft Climate Action Plan, which advocates for many climate goals and actions that are not consistent with developing the Evans Spring area.
We hope Roanoke City Council considers these points as it moves forward with consultants and potential plans from property owners or developers regarding the Evans Spring area. If the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy can be of assistance in the city’s deliberations, please do not hesitate to contact us.
David Perry is executive director of the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.