Albemarle Supervisors Weigh Option to Move Courts Following Economic Report

Posted: Updated: Dec 10, 2017 08:05 PM
Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
Court Square in downtown Charlottesville Court Square in downtown Charlottesville
Albemarle County Supervisor Ann Mallek Albemarle County Supervisor Ann Mallek
Bruce Williamson, a lawyer in Charlottesville Bruce Williamson, a lawyer in Charlottesville

Opponents of moving Albemarle County courts have more fuel for their fight following a report that shows it could cost taxpayers millions of dollars more than initially thought to move the courts out of downtown Charlottesville.

That report shows that moving the courthouse to the Rio Road - Route 29 area would cost somewhere between $10 to $15 million more than it would to renovate the circuit court.

"That's just the initial cost; it would cost about $800,000 a year according to their numbers to operate out there along Route 29 and Rio as opposed to operating here," says Bruce Williamson, chair of the Courts Location Committee for Charlottesville-Albemarle Bar Association. "There are no benefits to moving the court at all, the only potential benefit to the Albemarle County District Court and Circuit Court itself would be if they built a giant parking lot right next to it."

Opponents of relocating the Albemarle County courts out of downtown Charlottesville say the current setup is efficient for the legal system.

“These courts work together, the people who works in the courts, who appear in the courts, not just lawyers, but all of the folks who appear in those courts and work in those courts,” says Williamson.

A report from Stantec - which is conducting studies on renovation options or relocation of the courts - says that while moving the courts could stimulate development and economic growth in the county, the decision to relocate is not without its own different set of costs.

However, one county supervisor says the numbers even out a bit if you account for all the factors.

“The difference is that it includes a parking structure and a purchase of land, which were not initially included in the Levy price,” says Ann Mallek, a county supervisor.

The Levy option deals with a jointly owned building in Charlottesville that would house court facilities and parking on 7th Street.

“We would need to be fair and attribute a parking expense in the city as well, and I think once you do that, the number are much more in balance than they were,” says Mallek.

Mallek says that amounts to $5 million in costs for parking to keep the courts in the city.

With that expense added in, she says the court projects are relatively even.

“There's still so much we don't yet and I'm not willing to make that decision until I can feel confident that I can deliver that decision to the tax payers for what we tell them it's going to cost,” says Mallek.

Further complicating the costs in association with parking and transportation is that public transit isn't as readily available in the county as it is in downtown Charlottesville.

"Presently, both the city and county circuit courts, general district courts, and juvenile and domestic relations courts are all within very easy walking distance of each other," says Williamson. "Relocation would have direct negative impacts on the ability of the public defender, the Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society to represent their less affluent and indigent clients."

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will meet on Wednesday, December 13, to discuss the Stantec report.

Mallek hopes they can make a decision sometime in early winter on the plans for the courts.