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Albemarle courts to stay downtown
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Albemarle courts to stay downtown

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Albemarle courts

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek (center) stands with Charlottesville and Albemarle officials to announce an agreement between the two localities to construct a new courts complex and a parking structure that will serve both the city and county.

Updated at 9:24 p.m. and 11:21 p.m.

 

Albemarle County court facilities will remain in downtown Charlottesville.

A new three-story building will be connected to the Levy Building, which is jointly owned by the city and county, and will accommodate four courtroom sets — one for the Charlottesville General District Court and three for the Albemarle General District Court.

The county Commonwealth’s Attorney Office will relocate to the Levy Building at the corner of Park Street and East High Street.

The county Board of Supervisors and the City Council made the announcement Monday afternoon at a special joint meeting in Court Square.

Albemarle has been considering court facility options since 1999, and at least four studies have been completed on the matter.

“The need for updated court facilities has never been in dispute,” said Ann H. Mallek, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “Population growth has brought increased caseloads, and the existing court facilities do not meet contemporary standards for safety, security and ADA accessibility.”

The most recent round of negotiations between the city and the county began in January. A month prior, the board had directed county staff to resume negotiations on the county’s ownership and control of the lot at the eastern corner of Seventh and Market streets, as well as other issues.

“Today we recognize the hard work of the previous council members, previous staff and the current staff, board members and City Council,” Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said.

Amendments to the state code also will be needed to allow the county General District Court to move to land jointly owned by the city and county and out of Court Square, the county seat.

The project will consist of approximately 60,730 square feet at an estimated cost of $30 million. Charlottesville will contribute approximately $6.8 million toward the project, based on its proportional use of the new facility.

Albemarle will sell its share of the jointly owned Seventh and Market lot to Charlottesville. In turn, the city will build a parking structure on the site and provide 90 county-designated parking spots on the ground level.

A separate lease for the county spots would specify that the county cannot be charged more than $1 per year in rent and that the lease will be for a minimum of 20 years, with the possibility for an additional 20-year renewal.

The county also will get 15 on-street parking spots downtown.

If the city does not complete the garage by Nov. 30, 2023, or within one year after the General District Court project is completed, the city will have to provide 100 spaces in the Market Street Parking Garage at or below the second level for county court use. The city also will have to re-convey interest in the parcel at Seventh and Market, allow the county to use the parcel for parking and pay the county.

The county will pay for some of the maintenance costs associated with the new garage.

The space the Albemarle General District Court is set to vacate will be renovated to become an extension of the county’s Circuit Court, which will cost an estimated $14 million.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-1 on the memorandum of agreement at a continuation of the meeting Monday. Supervisor Rick Randolph cast the dissenting vote.

Randolph said he thinks a future board will have to move Albemarle’s court facilities out into the county “where they really deserve to be located for the convenience of our citizens.”

He said the board “faced headwinds” from the local legal community, who he said “resorted to threatening members of this board with political retribution,” as well as from local members of the General Assembly and the press.

“City Council has, in recent years, not demonstrated a governing capacity to obtain agreements and then execute them in good faith,” Randolph said. “My concern is that the parking garage spelled out in the memorandum will not be built by the city and that the Market Street parking facility ... will be permitted to deteriorate without the upkeep and maintenance necessary to assure an ongoing attractive facility for our county residents to use.”

At its meeting later Monday evening, the City Council voted, 5-0, in favor of the agreement.

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Related to this story

While there were exciting possibilities to the vision of having a spanking new Albemarle County courthouse complex, perhaps as part of the Rio Road development area, the county — and city — eventually chose the wise compromise of keeping court functions in downtown Charlottesville. That compromise serves the broader interests of both jurisdictions.

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