Charlottesville Files Countersuit in Water Street Parking Garage Dispute

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The legal battle over the Water Street Parking Garage is heating up between the city of Charlottesville and president of the Charlottesville Parking Center (CPC).

The city filed a counterclaim in court Friday, demanding a trial by jury to put the issue to settle the dispute once and for all.

The top level of the Water Street Parking Garage has become the focus for what is a complicated legal issue.

It all started when CPC President Mark Brown sought to increase the hourly and monthly rates for “pooled parking units” (unreserved parking spots) at the garage to reflect - what he says is - fair market value. Members of the garage's management board – which is equally made up of the CPC and city staff – are at odds over whether to raise the monthly rate from $120 to possibly $145.

A total of 973 spots in the Water Street Parking Garage are pooled parking units. Charlottesville controls 629 units, while CPC has 344.

In its lawsuit, the CPC says Charlottesville is abusing its power to set rates. The legal argument is rooted in the city subsidizing rates for public parking it owns outright, like the Market Street Garage. Brown says that action makes it impossible for private sector businesses, like CPC, to charge fair market rates for spaces it controls.

Brown argues, “The problem with low parking rates is it discourages other developers from building parking. So unless the municipality is constantly building parking, we'll always be short spaces.”

The lawsuit demands Charlottesville pay CPC $1 million in damages, the court remove the city from decision-making and an injunction to stop the city from any further decisions related to setting rates at the garage

Negotiations between both CPC and the city are deadlocked, and that means an uncertain future for the rates and fees at the garage.

"I really, really tried to set the foundation to settle this problem so that we can attack this problem rather than myself and the city spending their resources on litigation. And to get a counterclaim lawsuit today from the city was incredibly disappointing," he said.

For its part, the city's countersuit claims Brown bought parking spots owned by another party that once held a seat on the Water Street Parking Garage Condominium Association, the board that controls the garage. Now, that board is comprised of four CPC members and four city members. The city's countersuit argues that the board is governed by rules, and one of those rules is supposed to give Charlottesville the first right to buy spots that are for sale.

The countersuit concludes Brown broke the rules when he bought those spots. Brown calls that an outright lie.

The CPC president says Charlottesville's financial stake in the garage is quickly depreciating.

"We have no usage patterns. We have no way to know when our demand is, when its falling. The city's study in 2015 cites the same thing," said Brown.

According to Brown, the Water St. garage has 915 vehicles parking there per month, but a study by the city found about 545 spots are ever used at one time. Brown wants the city to sell its 930 spaces to CPC, because its own study shows more than 400 municipally-owned spots go unused each day. Brown says, if Charlottesville sold its spots to CPC, it could invest in the upgrades needed to oversell the spaces.

NBC29 reached out to the city manager and city attorney. Both denied the request for comment due to the pending lawsuit between CPC and Charlottesville. Councilors will take up the issue during an executive session on Monday, May 2.

Brown has said if there isn't some agreement within a week, CPC could close the Water Street Parking Garage.