During meetings and public hearings, we were asked many great questions about BTC. We're updating information here as the project progresses. BTC is still in pre-development with preliminary site work underway. Please reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org with further questions.
Bluestone Town Center's request to change zoning from R1, R3, and B2 was rooted in the desire to create a vibrant town center development instead of a typical subdivision development. As of right under the original zoning, a developer without the goal of including supportive and attainable housing in an attractive way could develop approximately 900 units. If developed under the original zoning standards, there may not be a requirement for road improvements.
By rezoning the parcels to R7, our development team is committed to a master plan as well as significant improvements to the road network surrounding BTC. These improvements include additional traffic signals, turn lanes, roundabouts, pedestrian and bike lanes as well as other traffic mitigation techniques. Improvements are along Garbers Church Road, Ericson Avenue, and Hidden Creek Lane and also for where roads leading out of the BTC development connect to them.
HRHA received an unsolicited proposal from Equity Plus in the Fall of 2021. After a period of negotiation, HRHA and EP arrived at a Joint Venture agreement in December 2021 to develop Bluestone Town Center together. HRHA has 51% ownership rights. Its role in the development is to ensure that the housing meets community needs and will remain affordable to rent over time and for first time homebuyers and working families to afford to purchase. This is the kind of public/private partnership needed to build affordable housing and has been done across the country.
More information on EquityPlus can be found on their website.
HRHA/EP has purchased approximately 90 acres of land for BTC. The vision is to develop a community that includes a town center and green space and is walkable, bike friendly, and accessible to public transportation. The development will be about 60% homeownership and 40% rental with an emphasis on mixed-income and mixed-use. Unit construction will be phased in at up to 100 units per year, not including units for the elderly.
Homeownership will include single family and townhomes for sale and will be targeted toward first time homebuyers with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000. Rental housing will include townhomes, senior, and multifamily housing serving families with household incomes from $40,000 to $60,000.
Density is an important tool to combat sprawl, efficiently use limited existing spaces in the City, and preserve the rural county landscape. The town center design emphasizes a community of mixed income and mixed ages of individuals and families. It is comparable to other areas of similar size in the City such as the Central Avenue and Park View neighborhoods, which are composed of apartments, townhomes, single family homes, and commercial properties.
This development is not a shelter, and residents will not be transient. Residents will be homeowners and renters who are employed, with about 75 units designated for elderly or disabled people who need rent subsidies. The average length of stay for HRHA residents is 6 years, and the national average of multifamily residents’ length of stay is 27.5 months. Most people who will move into this development already live and work locally. HRHA currently has multiple families and aspiring homebuyers who can afford to rent on their own or buy their first home but cannot find units available.
The City is in dire need of affordable housing for teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and other civil servants who are priced out of the current market, as clearly shown in the 2021 Harrisonburg Comprehensive Housing Assessment. Links to the full housing study and its executive summary can be found here
Harrisonburg City ranks 83rd in the nation in terms of housing shortage and is 1,256 units short of meeting its housing need. That is according to a recent study by Up for Growth, a national cross-sector member network committed to solving the housing crisis through data-driven research and evidence based policy. https://upforgrowth.org/
As part of the town center, HRHA/EP is proposing retail/offices/community services on the first floor with housing on the second level. HRHA/EP plans to focus on services more than retail and is working with local nonprofits and community service providers for healthcare, childcare, employment, and educational services primarily for the development’s residents, similar to what has been done in other developments nationwide.
HRHA/EP has no desire to compete with nearby existing retailers and services such as Wal-Mart and businesses on South High Street. HRHA/EP does want to promote a sense of place and destination, which is a critical value of the development.
Homeowners and apartment building owners will be responsible for 100% of real estate taxes for their respective properties. Taxes on this development will increase City revenues. Tax revenue for 899 units at Bluestone would build up to $1,751,000 when all phases are completed.
Housing is a significant concern in the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. With a 2-3.5 percent vacancy rate for rental units and for-sale homes continuing to sell quickly, the challenge of finding a home is a real issue in our community. The lack of housing is having a negative effect on local businesses in recruiting and retaining employees due to their inability to find suitable and affordable housing. There are few to no options for first time homebuyers, and demographic trends show an increasing need for senior housing. HRHA’s waiting list is thousands of households long and composed of families living locally.
The City is in dire need of affordable workforce housing and housing for the elderly and disabled who need supportive services, as clearly shown in the City’s 2021 Comprehensive Housing Assessment. Lack of affordable housing is one of the City’s greatest challenges and consistently among the top concerns of residents in recent surveys. More than 425 signatures were gathered on the House Harrisonburg Now petition supporting BTC.
Letters of support for BTC were received from:
H/R Chamber of Commerce
H/R Association of Realtors
H/R United Way
Virginia Poultry Growers Association
Valley Associates for Independent Living
Valley Program for Aging Services
Our Community Place
Bridge of Hope
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
Faith in Action
Living Wage Campaign
Strength in Peers
H/R Social Services District
Valley Justice Coalition
Welcoming Harrisonburg Council
The 2021 Housing Assessment noted that there was a large “missing middle” of housing availability in the Harrisonburg area – noting that there was demand for another 3,600 units of housing affordable to households earning between about $40,000 and $100,000 annually. This project will deliver about 600 units of housing to meet this unmet demand. Homes in BTC are the “missing middle” that benefits first-time homebuyers and keeps rentals affordable over decades.
The same study indicated a need for another roughly 530 units of senior and supportive housing. This project will deliver about 100 units to meet this need. Additionally, housing was named the number one need in citizen input on how the City should use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Harrisonburg City ranks 83rd in the nation in terms of housing shortage and is 1,256 units short of meeting its current housing need. That is according to a recent study by Up For Growth, a national cross-sector member network committed to solving the housing crisis through data-driven research and evidence based policy.
More than 7,800 Harrisonburg households fall below the ALICE threshold of Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained and Employed. More than 3,600 lower income renter households are cost burdened – meaning they pay more than 30% of their income for housing. The lowest income households have the smallest housing inventory available to them.
Harrisonburg is not alone in facing housing challenges. To eliminate cost burden for low-income renters across Virginia, 300,000 new affordable rental units are needed. Nationwide there is a shortfall of more than 1.5 million units to alleviate cost burden and a total need for 7.3 million affordable rental homes.
The City requires adequate parking for new developments. Total parking spaces will be determined by the final number and type of units, which is still evolving as part of the site plan. The site is on existing bus routes and adjacent to the greenway bike and walking path. The development will include bus stops.
A traffic impact study has been completed. It considered the current state of traffic, the impact of improvements, and potential mitigations that will alleviate additional pressure on roadways.
Bluestone Town Center is proposing 60 senior one-bedroom apartments. Multifamily units also will include some one-bedroom units. The total number of one-bedroom units in the entire development is not yet final as adjustments to the site plan continue to evolve. Housing policy requires one-bedroom units to house only one or two people.
Bluestone Town Center went through the normal development approval process in the City and was scrutinized more than most developments. HRHA and EquityPlus spent all of 2022 answering City questions about the site, zoning, utilities, traffic, fire safety, and more. The project went through the Planning Commission and City Council usual approval processes. Multiple public comment sessions were held. All documents were publicly available on the City’s Council Media website. HRHA/EP held separate information sessions in an attempt to answer questions about the project. Details and answers to these FAQs have also been available on this website since 2022.
Letters of support were received from 25-plus organizations and individuals. An online petition in support of the development collected more than 400 signatures in just a few months’ time.
The development was approved by the Planning Commission on January 17, 2023 and by City Council on February 28, 2023. The site will be developed over approximately eight years with unit construction phased in at up to 100 units per year, not including units for the elderly.
The project is currently pursuing the preliminary plat and site plan approval process for the Phase 1 site plan, which incorporates 32 acres of the approximately 90-acre site. Preliminary plat approval is tentatively expected in February 2024 and Phase 1 site plan approval in June 2024.
How will the cemetery on the property be handled?
The existing cemetery will be part of the proposed green space and will be fenced off and left intact for access. Additionally, the development team will take great care to ensure that the cemetery is treated with respect, including the addition of space for people to visit to pay their respects.
How much blasting will there be?
HRHA/EP anticipates little blasting will be necessary – nothing like what was needed to build Bluestone Elementary School. For sale individual homes will be manufactured off site and placed on permanent concrete foundations onsite, specifically to minimize blasting. Townhomes and apartments will be stick built onsite. The site plan is being developed to place units in such a way as to minimize blasting.
This development site has the same geography and no more challenges than sites across the rest of the City. HRHA/EP will make every effort to communicate a construction schedule for any blasting to increase residents’ awareness of work to be done. Link to geologic survey below.
Manufactured housing is factory built to HUD code and safety standards. Units must have a HUD-certified label on the exterior and interior. Manufactured housing is placed on a permanent foundation and is financed and taxed as real property. Residents may own their unit and lot or own their unit and while lots are owned by an HOA. Units are energy efficient and have proven resilient in natural disasters.
HUD is increasingly moving toward manufactured housing for these reasons and because it is faster to build and more affordable for buyers. Communities are no more transient than other neighborhoods. Local Harrisonburg businesses already have successfully provided this type of housing for decades.
Few sites of any size are available to develop in Harrisonburg. Current affordable housing is spread throughout the City. The majority of units in this development are for sale single family homes and townhomes for working people, including much needed teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and other civil servants, as shown in the project renderings.
This development will be built in phases over six to eight years, and HRHA/EP has met City requirements for proffers for traffic mitigation and impact on City services. This development is not any denser than many existing neighborhoods. City staff identified comparable neighborhoods as the Central Avenue corridor and Park View.
Mixed-income and intergenerational housing is the trend and best practice recommended in housing nationwide. Long-established City neighborhoods, townhouse developments, and apartment complexes already contain this same mix of incomes and ages.
Generations Crossing is a successful local United Way agency of more than 20 years that combines day care for the elderly and children from infant to pre-school as well as before and after-school care. In the Bluestone Town Center, subsidized units for the elderly and disabled will be traditional apartment-style units situated among community service and garden-style apartment buildings at the development’s center.
HRHA/EP has conducted a Phase 1 environmental study that identified no significant concern with any site issues on the property. While additional subterranean exploration and studies are required, HRHA/EP plans to work closely with the development’s architects and engineers to minimize the impact of rock and soil on site development costs. Once City Council approves the development’s site plan, additional geologic study will be done to determine the specific location and amount of blasting.
Effective property management and consistent lease enforcement are best practices in reducing crime. HRHA, as the 51 % owner, will ensure the property management group addresses issues promptly and responsively. The development will also use crime prevention through environmental design to ensure building placement and design promotes reduced criminal activity. As with all HRHA properties, use of a security camera system with access for the Harrisonburg Police Department will be employed to assist in passively reducing criminal activity.
The City’s comprehensive plan was drafted in 2018, amended in 2022, and scheduled for a review in 2023. The plan calls for this type of development, and mixed-use mixed-income developments are a current best practice in housing.
The comprehensive plan emphasizes the need for affordable housing, use of density to address the City’s housing challenges, and the desire to strengthen neighborhood communities. Goals include meeting the current and future needs of residents for affordable housing; promoting affordable housing options, including affordable rental properties and affordable homes for ownership; and promoting home ownership to increase the proportion of owner-occupied units in the City.
HRHA/EP envisions developing Bluestone Town Center as a Green community that meets specific community standards that promote sustainability, walkability, and use of green/environmentally friendly practices. Adhering to these standards will ensure consistency with the comprehensive plan.
In evaluating the site, HRHA/EP determined that the location is highly suited for the proposed community due to its close proximity to K-12 schools, parks, healthcare, and retail. As part of the planned community, some services and possible retail is proposed onsite. The specific services and retail have not been determined.
Amenities and distance:
The following amenities are near BTC:
Walmart, 0.9 miles
Food Lion, 1.2 miles
Healthy Community Health Center, 4 miles
Free Clinic, 4.1 miles
Social Security office, 3.4 miles
Social Services, 3.3 miles
Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board, 4.3 miles
Valley Associates for Independent Living, 3.5 miles
Virginia Employment Commission, 3.3 miles
Community Resource Center, 3.9 miles
HRHA Office, 3.9 miles
Hillandale Park, 1.1 miles
adjacent to the greenway bike and walking trail
adjacent to City bus stops
Creating affordable housing and keeping it affordable for the work force is not simple. If it were, we would not have a nationwide housing crisis with so many people unable to afford to live where they work.
Space to build in Harrisonburg is limited. Almost no planned development includes affordable units. The right combination of financing, scheduling, and scale must come together for new houses to be affordable for purchase at work force salaries. The same applies to building rental housing and keeping it affordable over 20 to 30 years.