Zoning changes to encourage entrepreneurship

If it’s more beer the town wants, then it is more beer it shall receive.

Well, that’s the hope, at least. Salem City Council members voted on a zoning change during Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting to include microbreweries in the permitted uses for downtown business districts.

Residents shouldn’t dust off the pint glasses just yet, though. There are no business plans in the works, Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess stated during the first reading at the Jan. 11 meeting.

However, the change will pave the way for those interested in starting such a business. It comes right on the heels of the city’s downtown plan, which was approved at the previous city council meeting, and is part of a larger agenda to revitalize the area.

Pumping new businesses into downtown that will expand tourism and draw a younger and more diverse crowd is the city’s primary objective with the plan, especially with its location adjacent to Roanoke College.

The city hopes to excite entrepreneurs who will bring fresh ideas to the table, and Roanoke College alum Justin VanBlaricom is doing just that.

VanBlaricom has purchased two run-down properties in Salem, and Monday night he presented his plans to council to request zoning changes that will make it easier for him to get the ball rolling.

On the first reading, council approved his plans for the property located at 201 West Main Street to be renovated into a community office space, similar to the Grandin CoLab. VanBlaricom requested that the space be rezoned for the the downtown business district. The space will include six private offices and 12 desks, private offices available for rent, as well as membership opportunities.

“It will have a business lounge feel,” VanBlaricom said.

“I was born in Salem and went to Roanoke College, so I would love to have an opportunity for Roanoke College kids to stick around,” he added. “It will also provide an office space for stay at home parents.”

Though parking will be limited to a handful of spots and street parking, VanBlaricom said a large majority of individuals who will utilize this type of space will be bikers and walkers.

“I think it will go in really well with the new downtown plan we’re working on,” said Salem City Councilman John Givens.

“You’re an answer to my prayers,” added Councilwoman Jane Johnson, who said she is a fan of the Grandin CoLab, and has wanted a similar space in Salem for a while.

The second property VanBlaricom purchased is located at 1037 E. Riverside Dr., directly off the greenway, and he requested that it be rezoned as a highway business district property, which was also approved at the meeting.

VanBlaricom said he hopes to create a climate-controlled dining facility with electric hookups for food trucks. He said he is banking on greenway walkers who are looking for a convenient place to dine

It will also serve as an assembly hall, and a space that locals can rent out for parties and events. He said the space may also be used for yoga classes in the future.

“We like the fact that he’s taken two dilapidated properties and made good use of them,” said Salem Planning and Develepment Director Melinda Payne.

The next Salem City Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 8.

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