By Samantha Yates
Four days after the City of Lexington approved Washington and Lee University’s plan to build housing for third-year students, the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors added its okay.
The supervisors’ voted 3-0 Nov. 24 to approve an amended proposal from the university. Board Members Buster Lewis and David Hinty Jr. were absent.
The supervisors’ action apparently clears the way for the university’s requirement that juniors begin living on campus in the 2016-17 academic year. To house them, W&L will need to build more than 300 new housing units. The construction is planned for the back campus, near Route 60 West (West Nelson Street) and West Denny Circle.
University representatives had asked the board for approval on Oct. 27, but the supervisors delayed their decision for 30 days. They said they wanted W&L planners to answer their concerns about parking, traffic and student safety associated with the project.
In response, university officials modified their original plans to include 749 new parking spaces, compared to the 673 spaces they proposed in October. They plan to use land behind the Liberty Hall ruins for additional parking.
Addressing supervisors’ concerns about motorists’ visibility at the intersection of Route 60 and West Denny Circle, W&L showed supervisors a study that found the intersection meets or exceeds standards set by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The board was also concerned that the location of the new housing would increase traffic around campus, creating potential safety hazards for pedestrians. University officials explained that most third-years who now live off campus drive to class every day. Housing them on campus, W&L officials said, would encourage them to walk to class instead.
But the university plans to address the county’s concerns by working with Lexington officials to upgrade crosswalks along Nelson Street.
Finally, in response to concerns about the safety of students walking at night between the new housing and parking, university officials promised to install lighting and emergency “blue light” communication stations. The university also plans to hire additional campus security officers.
Because the project will be within both Lexington and Rockbridge County, the school needed approval from both the county supervisors and Lexington City Council.
Lexington City Council members voted 4-0 Nov. 20 to approve the plan.
With that, W&L is now free to begin construction. The first step will be site preparation, which includes readying the foundation. The university hopes to start this month if the weather is favorable.