Albemarle Co. Files Lawsuit Against Charlottesville Over Natural Area

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Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville are heading to court over a dispute about Ragged Mountain Natural Area. This is the latest in a string of disputes over a variety of issues this year.

The county is asking a judge to keep its ban on biking in place, instead of the city's new rule allowing cyclists onto trails.

The lawsuit was filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Thursday, April 20, and asks for an injunction. If a judge approves the county’s motion, then the city would have to temporarily halt its new rule from going into effect.

“This is not the way we want to go forward with city-county relationships. We can do better than this,” said Charlottesville City Councilor Bob Fenwick.

Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 on December 20, 2016, to allow bikes on park trails. Several councilors want to see separate pedestrians-only and multi-use bicycle, jogging, and walking trails.

The city owns Ragged Mountain Natural Area and wanted to allow bikes on the property, but the park is physically in Albemarle County.

County regulations currently do not allow biking on the trails. Albemarle County supervisors argue state law prohibits the city from adopting regulations that conflict with county law.

Fenwick says the city could have done more to avoid the conflict months ago when it first started, to avoid playing it out in court.

“The attorneys for both sides could have gotten together and I asked one specifically if he had sat down with the counterpart and he said no. They could talk through this and get as far along a way to solving this as possible and then we'd see where we were,” Fenwick stated.

In a statement to NBC29, Mayor Mike Signer noted that the city offered binding arbitration to the county. Signer said:

This is a highly unusual case of 'dueling ordinances' by neighboring jurisdictions with differing policy priorities for the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. In an effort to avoid litigation, City Council made a good-faith offer to the county to resolve the underlying legal issues through binding arbitration. Our friends in the county declined our offer, and we will now proceed accordingly.

Fenwick says that he did not think binding arbitration was the right step and that this legal issue should be up to a court.

“But this is a state law. If it was an arbitration or mediation, you might come to a conclusion now but the same problem would come up later. So it has to be negotiated,” Fenwick said.

Councilor Kristin Szakos said in a statement that she does not think the lawsuit will negatively affect county-city relations. Her statement adds, "We just need to get a legal ruling so we can all move forward."

Albemarle County Supervisor Brad Sheffield says that he wishes the issue did not come to this, but that the lawsuit is necessary to gain clarity in the law. Sheffield added that he hopes it is handled in a civil way.

Charlottesville spokeswoman Miriam Dickler tells NBC29 that the city has not been served with the lawsuit yet but will have 21 days to respond once that happens.

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