CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Court Square in Charlottesville is getting a complete overhaul, now that Albemarle supervisors and city councilors have struck a deal.

Together, Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville announced plans to renovate existing structures and create a new court complex.

But it also includes a plan to build a new parking garage along East Market Street downtown.

Planning for this expansion has taken years, and now the estimated $30 million project is moving forward.

“In the not too distant future, the county's predictions are, based on the studies they've done, they will basically out grow the single courtroom,” says Bruce Williamson, chair of the courts location committee of the Charlottesville Albemarle BAR Association, continuing with, “It's a tremendous idea to have these courts in the same building.”

Albemarle and Charlottesville’s general district courts are making a move, but not going far.

Court rooms for both jurisdictions, along with both of the commonwealth's attorney’s offices will be housed in a new complex at the Levy building with the addition behind it.

Board of supervisors Chair Ann Mallek says, “The existing court facilities do not meet contemporary standards for safety, security and ADA accessibility after more than 10 years of effort this capital project represents the largest investment in any project since I have served on the board.”

Williamson notes, “It's an everyday occurrence that someone will come to one of the General District Courts and either sit through a docket and miss their court date in the other court, or ask and be re-directed to the court that's a couple of blocks away.”

Keeping the courts downtown is good news for area attorneys and public defenders, who expressed concerned when supervisors said they'd consider moving its courts to the Route 29 Rio Road area.

Public Defender Liz Murtagh says, “It's huge for us, it's huge for our clients that can get downtown, get here easily. They can come to court, they can get here on time, if they had to travel outside of the Charlottesville greater area like 29 North, they'd be a real problem for them.”

Parking for court users is addressed as part of this agreement, as 90 spaces at the facility will be for court use.

The city says it will also use land it acquired along East Market Street where Lucky Seven and Guadalajara currently sit, along with additional space the county is selling to the city.

With plans to break ground in the fall of 2021, city and county leaders say they're glad to come to a decision that works for both localities.

Wes Bellamy with the Charlottesville City Council states, “Whenever the city and the county can come together to be able to work together on different projects, it's a win for the entire region. Charlottesville and Albemarle we go hand in hand on a variety of different things.”

The one catch to all this is state lawmakers still need to approve a part of the plan, because state law requires the general district court be located in the county's courthouse.

Supervisors will talk more about that at a meeting on Dec. 4.

If all goes as planned, construction is expected to last about two years.

Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville Press Release:

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, VA - The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council announced today that an agreement has been reached on the Courts. The Albemarle County General District Court and Circuit Court will remain downtown, in the Court Square area. 

Under the agreement, Albemarle and Charlottesville will undertake a redevelopment of the Levy Building site, located at 350 Park Street. The Levy Building will be renovated for use by the County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office and a new 3-story building connected to the Levy Building will accommodate court sets for the City General District Court and County General District Court. In total, the redevelopment will provide approximately 60,730 gross square feet, at an estimated cost of $30 million. The City will contribute approximately $6.8 million toward the project, based on its use of the new facility.

“Albemarle has spent many years studying what will be the largest capital investment in a generation,” shared Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Mallek. “We completed our due diligence to ensure the needs of all Court users are met, with sufficient, convenient parking and modern security enhancements. We are delighted to retain our community’s connection to the fair and equitable provision of justice in historic Court Square. We are confident this is the right investment, in the right location.”

Parking for Court users will be addressed through the redevelopment of the shared City-County parcel at 7th Street NE and East Market Street. Under the agreement, the County will sell its share of the parcel to the City. The City plans to develop a parking structure to support the courts and other parking needs downtown. During Court operating hours, 90 parking spaces will be designated for County Court users. The agreement is for a 20-year period, with an option to extend for an additional 20 years.

“The feedback from our citizens has been consistently in favor of keeping our area’s court facilities in downtown Charlottesville,” said Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker. “We are pleased to have reached this joint agreement which we believe will benefit not only the legal community, but also the court clients and all the agencies and nonprofits that provide them support.”

Groundbreaking for this project is expected in Fall 2021 with construction lasting 2 years