Staunton’s Historic Preservation Commission says ‘no’ to Augusta courthouse expansion

Staunton's Historic Preservation Commission says 'no' to Augusta courthouse expansion

STAUNTON, Va. (WVIR) - The Staunton Historic Preservation Commission said ‘no’ to Augusta County’s plan to tear down four historic buildings and build a five-story expansion of the 1901 courthouse.

The commission denied the Augusta County Board of Supervisors' application for a Certificate of Appropriateness to build a 95-thousand square-foot courthouse addition.

“This project is poorly conceived and it’s an abomination,” said Staunton resident Ellen Boden during the Tuesday night meeting.

Staunton resident Angus Carter started a petition opposing the expansion. “That not only affects every surrounding building downtown. It destroys the soul of downtown,” said Carter. As of Tuesday night, the petition had just under 3,700 signatures.

The Historic Preservation Commission also received over 40 emails and letters from concerned citizens, and several people spoke during the meeting, all opposing Augusta County’s proposal.

“The proposed demolition of these historic buildings would truly remove architecturally and culturally significant historic buildings,” said Frank Strassler with the Historic Staunton Foundation. He recommended the commission deny the application, and that’s just what the members did.

“The project as designed will harm and permanently alter the historic fabric, contributing buildings and the context of the district,” stated Historic Preservation Commission member Mike Brown.

The commission unanimously denied a certificate for new construction. Then one-by-one denied certificates that would allow for the destruction of four early to mid-19th century buildings including Five Lawyer’s Row.

“This is a one-of-a-kind structure. Demolition destroys a purpose-built law office originally constructed sometime before 1850,” said Historic Preservation Commission member Carter Lively.

Augusta County can only build adjacent to the 1901 courthouse. County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald says supervisors don’t want to build over a floodway, which is where the current General District Court sits. They do not favor the campus concept for safety and security reasons, and the neighboring Atlantic Union Bank is not for sale.

“There are lots of folks that have ideas about building this court facility,” said Fitzgerald. “I’ve heard the Staunton Mall. I’ve heard Big Lots. I’ve heard Ingleside. I’ve heard various places and that simply cannot happen.”

Dennis Blanton with the Historic Preservation Commission says they would like to work with Augusta County leaders. “I think we all recognize that the courthouse is an integral part of the city and that the commission I believe would be prepared to consider alternative, viable plans,” said Blanton.

Augusta County has 30 days to appeal the decision to Staunton City Council.

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