CHRISTIANSBURG–One of the things I’ve learned in life and in business is that “yes” is a good answer.
Really, it’s the BEST answer, the one to use whenever possible, unless truly extenuating circumstances dictate otherwise. So I suffered intensely negative emotions when the Christiansburg Town Council said “no” to a request from the Moose Lodge 1470 and me last month.
My day job is the management of a multi-tenant commercial building in the Christiansburg Industrial Park, where we rent space to a number of businesses. The building was completed 15 years ago.
Currently we have a 5000 square foot space vacant and available. Meanwhile, the Moose Lodge sold their building on Ridinger Street, and they wanted to rent it from us. This would be good for them and us.
Christiansburg is a zoned community, meaning that only specific functions can occur in the various residential, commercial and industrial zones. The particular zone in which my building is located does not allow “clubs and lodges.” So as written, the Moose Lodge was not eligible for occupancy, although nothing the Moose Lodge planned to do in our industrial zone was prohibited.
In discussions with the planning director for the town, he encouraged us to petition the town to change the zoning to allow for clubs and lodges. The Planning Commission considered our request, held a public hearing (during which no opposition was voiced) and voted 10 to 0 in favor of allowing it.
But when it went in front of the Town Council, the liaison abruptly changed his mind and voted “no,” and then was promptly joined by the other five councilmen. Thwarting that request also prevented the Moose Lodge’s other potential option, occupancy by a conditional use permit.
Town Council had their reasons, but they were then and remain now wholly uncompelling to me.
They said it would set a precedent, and other clubs couldn’t be prohibited. True. But to my knowledge, there are no clubs in town that might want a clubhouse in an industrial zone. And so what? There would be no damage if they did!
They said they would be forced to relax restrictions on other types of businesses. But that’s simply not true. What we requested was limited and specific; just because they let in clubs and lodges wouldn’t mean they’d need to let in pig farms or plutonium enrichment facilities or anybody else.
They said they wanted to save precious industrial space for large industrial employers. That may have been a compelling argument years ago. But we no longer live in an industrial economy. The park is over 25 years old and there are still vacant lots. Our space has been vacant for two years, and I’ve had zero interest from industrial prospects. I am happy to rent it to anyone who will make good use of it and not negatively impact the neighbors.
So there are many reasons to say “yes” and none to say “no.”
Who are the losers? Who is hurt by this decision?
• The Moose Lodge spent considerable time and money researching options and applying to be in my building. The money is wasted and they have to start over, again.
• The Planning Commission’s members must feel marginalized, as their careful deliberation on this issue was thoroughly ignored.
• The town may ultimately lose the Moose Lodge to a neighboring community, as the Lodge felt unwelcomed and is now looking elsewhere.
• My family is the biggest loser, as the town has prevented us from benefiting from the considerable investment we’ve made in the community.
Who were the beneficiaries in this decision?
• As far as I can tell, nobody.
Successful commercial, industrial and research parks are not beholden to antiquated, indefensible and self-defeating laws. The economic environment under which the zoning ordinance in question was conceived and approved, in significant ways, no longer exists. The world has changed; policies must change accordingly.
I have requested, as politely as I know how, that they reconsider. But they seem entirely disinclined to do so.
It is maddening and deeply disappointing that the town in which I grew up, and worked and invested in over the last 25 years, would be so blithe as to prevent me from reaping the fruits of my investments. It’s really heartbreaking to feel so unappreciated.
I have spoken to several of my professional contacts – businesspeople, bankers, and commercial realtors – and all have expressed their dismay at the council’s inflexibility and insensitivity.
Following all our disappointments, life goes on. I continue to look for a tenant who will pay rent and help me make a living. The Moose Lodge, colloquially known as the “Christiansburg Moose Lodge,” will continue their search, likely ending up in Blacksburg, Riner, Shawsville or elsewhere outside Christiansburg.
And hard feelings will endure, all because six men decided to say “no” when they could have said “yes.”
Michael Abraham is a businessman and author. He was raised in Christiansburg and lives in Blacksburg.