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Development will affect agricultural land

By Sookhan Ho

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 23 - March 5, 1998

Continuing development pressures on the central-campus area during the next few years are likely to cause relocation of some crop and pasture lands on campus. In the longer term, satellite parking or structured parking (garages) may have to be built and parts of the campus road system redesigned.
These projections were made by Dewberry & Davis, a consulting firm hired by the university to conduct a comprehensive land-use planning study that focuses on university-owned land between the central campus and the Route 460 Bypass, stretching from the Corporate Research Center on the south end to Price's Fork Road on the north.
The study has its origins in the adoption of the 1994 Campus Master Plan Update, which identified land along the east side of the bypass as agricultural land as well as areas for potential long-term central-campus expansion.
A central issue for the university has to do with whether the dairy, with its barns and animals, should stay at its current location or be relocated to another site. "The decision was closely tied to a number of other issues that could only be resolved in a comprehensive study," according to the consultant's report.
In presenting the report's findings last week to members of the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Board of Visitors, Dewberry & Davis representative Doug Fahl said the study considered the long-term expansion of the airport and Corporate Research Center and its impact on the areas occupied by dairy science. "During the next 25 years," he said, the CRC and airport are not expected to infringe on dairy-science areas. "The dairy can stay where it is and there would still be room to do other things."
Ray Smoot, university vice president for finance and treasurer, said while agricultural lands east of the bypass and south of Southgate Drive appeared safe from significant development pressures during this period, the same could not be said of the area east of the bypass and north of Stroubles Creek.
"This is where we have near-term projects," he said, comprising the construction of additional Special Purpose Housing units (for Greek organizations) and the possible relocation of several holes on the Golf Course to accommodate the proposed new Alumni Center building. "Both would move into areas where the equine pasture is currently located."
Also present at the meeting was Andy Swiger, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who argued for protecting dairy and other agricultural lands that support teaching activities against development pressures. "I don't like our land to be viewed as a reservoir available for other activities," Swiger said. "Agricultural lands near central campus which impact teaching should merit the same consideration in the Master Plan as an academic building or a dorm," he said. "They should be as inviolate as the Drillfield."
"One of my main goals is to keep the teaching animals close to campus," Swiger said. He pointed out that undergraduate enrollment in dairy science and animal and poultry sciences has more than doubled to nearly 600 undergraduate students in the past nine years. The students come from all over the eastern United States, with more than half the dairy-science undergraduate enrollment from out of state.
"It's really the animals--the horses, pigs, and cattle--and the opportunities to work with them that attract our students." Students in many other agricultural colleges, such as those at N.C. State and Ohio State, for example, lack opportunities to work with animals on-campus, Swiger said.
Swiger said that there were no good alternative locations for dairy-science operations "now or in the future." It was inefficient and costly," he said, "to move dairy operations elsewhere."
While agreeing that relocation of the dairy did not seem needed nor financially feasible within the next 25 years, Smoot emphasized that if the university is to continue its growth, some existing agricultural land will continue to be used for other purposes, such as university buildings, roadways, and recreational fields. "This was recognized in 1985 when the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences asked the university to acquire the 1,800-acre Kentland Farm site approximately eight miles southwest of the main campus.
"We walk a challenging course here," Smoot said. In addition to the educational aspects of keeping farm animals nearby, university administrators, he said, are also aware that the attractiveness of the campus is based in part on its rural character.
He emphasized that this rural character and the open spaces along the Route 460 Bypass, including the dairy complex, "would be maintained and enhanced during foreseeable future campus growth." The construction of a grade-separated interchange and the Southgate Drive/Hubbard Street connector, scheduled by VDOT in 2001, will present opportunities to significantly enhance this primary entrance to the campus.
The report noted that "the overriding goal" of the land-use planning study "is to maintain a campus image of openness that balances the influences of emerging high-tech research with the traditional agricultural qualities for which Virginia Tech is known."