Albemarle County Courthouse

Consultants hired by Albemarle officials to analyze the economic benefits of relocating county courts and the County Office Building from the city of Charlottesville to the county briefed the Board of Supervisors on their progress Wednesday.

“When the objectives were set out for this study, one of the assumptions is that we’re not seeing a lot of mixed-use and walkable communities being developed,” said Drew Leff, of the firm Stantec. “What we’re looking at is whether the courthouse or the County Office Building, or both, can help to get us over the hump and act as a catalyst.”

The board voted 4-2 in November to direct staff to pursue the study. That move put a plan to renovate the existing courts in downtown Charlottesville on hold.

Stantec was hired at a cost of $332,824 to study whether there would be enough economic benefit to attract a private-sector developer to enter into a public-private partnership to develop a new complex in Albemarle.

“July is when we got underway with significant work, and it’s been fast and furious across multiple fronts,” said Trevor Henry, the county’s director of facilities and environmental services.

Supervisors took no action Wednesday and will receive a further briefing on Nov. 8. Henry said an additional work session will be held later that month.

“It would really be to help get through some of the content and a lot of the information, but also to take a bit of a deeper dive into the public-private partnership process and to help set the framework for decision-making,” Henry said.

Leff described in general how a public-private partnership might work.

“Typically, a developer can provide and operate a public facility or public infrastructure but they need an income stream to pay for this and pay for the operation, which allows them to finance the project,” Leff said, adding that many roads are paid for by tolls, whose revenues can be projected years in advance.

A similar arrangement can be worked out for a building that includes public uses alongside private development.

“We’ve had experience recently working on a project in Florida where the city wanted to see a new mixed-use development created in what it was hoping would be more of a downtown area,” Leff said. “They worked with a development on a [public-private partnership] basis to not only provide that development but also a new City Hall.”

County Attorney Greg Kamptner said Virginia law requires circuit courts to be under local government ownership but the same restriction would not apply to a new administration building.

The county purchased the former Lane High School from the city of Charlottesville in 1978 for $800,000 for use as its main administration building. The land and building have a combined 2017 assessment of $24.4 million.

In September, the consultant began reviewing the feasibility of moving those administrative functions elsewhere.

“That entailed department interviews, a walk-through of the building and a space utilization survey,” said Xuan Phan, a project manager with Stantec. “We’ll be reporting to you on the results of that in November.”

Phan and her team also are looking at the fiscal impact of moving the courts and the County Office Building. Financing options for the public-private partnership also will be developed.

“We will wrap up everything in a set of recommendations to you in a presentation at the December meeting,” Phan said. “That December meeting is intended for you to be able to make a decision about the courts and County Office Building.”

Phan said different scenarios will be created for how development would occur.

“We’ll estimate the development cost, we’ll look at the financing assumptions, we’ll generate operating pro forma for the development,” Phan said. “All of that is to try to generate some estimates or ranges for returns that may be available to a developer or an investor. It needs to be sufficient to attract development.”

This work has coincided with the development of a small-area plan for the area around the intersection of U.S. 29 and Rio Road.

Stantec also is conducting what it calls an “adjacency study.”

“Adjacency has to do with the adjacency of other court services and stakeholders to the courts themselves,” Phan said. “That would include the city and the county clerk offices, the commonwealth’s attorney office, the legal aid and public defender’s office, county sheriff, court services, interpreters, court reporters and private attorneys.”

Supervisor Norman Dill was one of two votes against authorizing the study.

“One of our big issues is we have a fairly limited development area with only 5 percent of the county,” Dill said. “We’re short on development sites and we’re talking about moving two huge complexes into a limited development area.”

Supervisors have been asked to fill out a survey ranking what criteria they think is most important as they weigh the relocation options.