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The Albemarle Board of Supervisors wants to know the possible economic benefits if the county were to move its government headquarters from the former Lane High School to another location.
“There’s been this idea toyed around about having a complete county complex constructed somewhere in the county,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield. “If we were going to investigate the economic impacts of moving just the courts, why not think about the county office building as well?”
County officials are negotiating with Charlottesville officials about building a joint general district court at the Levy Opera House that would allow more space for Albemarle’s growing judicial needs while keeping courtrooms downtown.
Last month, the board indicated it would like to keep open the possibility of moving the county courts out of Court Square due to concerns over parking and whether remaining downtown would be a good investment.
At that meeting, supervisors were briefed on the economic development opportunities that could come from relocating the courts system to another location in the county’s urban ring.
The idea appears to have gained traction among supervisors.
“We’re estimating costs of about $47 million to do the rehabilitation downtown,” Supervisor Rick Randolph said. “Could the county actually build both complexes at a cost not far from removed from that $47 million?”
One example cited during the presentation is New Town in James City County near Williamsburg. A new courthouse was built on rural land close to that city and a new residential and commercial community is being developed.
After a closed meeting last week, supervisors directed staff to conduct an economic impact analysis on moving both the administration and courts buildings outside city limits.
Randolph said that when he was a candidate for the Scottsville District board seat last year, he supported keeping the courts downtown. He said he is now open to moving them out of a concern that the county should not have to pay to build new parking spaces.
“We would not expect the taxpayers to have to pay money to create a parking facility for automobiles to be downtown, and we saw an economic multiplier effect for the city in having the cars there,” Randolph said. “People would stay and use restaurants and use other services.”
Sheffield was not physically at the meeting but joined the conversation via telephone. He said he has heard from many constituents and developers.
“We’ve had a lot of constituents express an interest in seeing that $47 million invested in the county,” Sheffield said. “We’ve had private developers express an interest in working with the county.”
Sheffield said the county office building was added to develop a more complete picture of what new complex could look like.
“The majority of the Board of Supervisors is looking to make sure they are making a decision based on all of the available information,” Sheffield said.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer said he has no comment on the study.
The study’s scope of the study has not yet been developed.
“I would expect the use of the existing buildings, as well any new location, would be analyzed,” Sheffield said. “Right now, it’s just a matter of getting everything on the table for the supervisors to consider.”
Albemarle County purchased the former Lane High School from the city in 1978 for $800,000 and renovated it at a cost of $5.5 million, according to a newspaper account from the time.
The 14.6-acre property was assessed this year at $14.4 million.
Randolph said no decisions have been made but that the board wants to make a decision that keeps future elected officials in mind.
“What we’re just trying to do is look at where we would get the most bang for the buck and where we would assure parking for the long-term needs of our residents,” Randolph said. “This is a really far-reaching decision with a lot of implications.”
In order to move the Albemarle Circuit Court, voters would need to approve moving the county seat in a referendum.
The relocation study comes at a time that other cooperative efforts between the city and county are being evaluated.
At its meeting Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors expects to sign off on four memorandums of understanding that signal the two communities’ willingness to work jointly on education, the environment, transportation and affordable housing.
At the same time, the two localities have yet to agree on a course of action to replace the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority’s Schenks Branch Interceptor. The county has not granted an easement along its property for the project’s second phase. The other alternative would be to route the pipe underneath McIntire Road.