The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to hire a consultant to assist with a study on moving the county courthouses or the county’s main office building outside of Charlottesville.
There were no further specifics about several options to move county functions into a new location in order to save costs and spur economic development.
“We’re at a very initial stage on that,” said County Executive Tom Foley. “There’s no final decision that [supervisors] have made.”
Supervisors Norman Dill and Liz Palmer voted against the idea. Palmer noted that the board has not yet had a public discussion about moving the county office building.
“When we throw that into the mix, I’m concerned,” Palmer said. “I certainly haven’t been shy about saying how I feel about moving the courts.”
However, three supervisors did support further study.
“I’m not up for stalling anything right now,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel was not present.
In October, Foley unveiled five options for addressing the county’s long-term court needs, including working with the city on a long-planned joint General District Court to be developed on the site of the former Levy Opera House.
However, Foley said that option would not provide certain opportunities.
The current cost estimate for remaining downtown is $40 million. Foley said other options could save between $2 million and $13 million.
“We need to address long-term space needs of the court system,” Foley said. “There’s an opportunity through what we were going to spend on the courts or what we would spend on a county office building to develop or redevelop areas of the county to create the Comprehensive Plan vision we have of urban places.”
However, those other options will need more information on public-private partnerships before the county can proceed.
“We don’t have expertise on staff on real estate and development,” Foley said. “Development advisory services assist the county staff in the identification and evaluation of county and/or privately owned properties that present development or redevelopment opportunities.”
These services would extend to financing plans, potential lease agreements, neighborhood revitalization strategies and financial analysis.
“If we get proposals to come in, we need to be able to evaluate those proposals,” Foley said. “This adviser would help us do all of this kind of work. It’s not the kind of thing that local governments do every day. You need to bring someone in to help you do it well, and we do need to do it well.”
Foley did not give an estimate for how much these services would cost but said funding could come from money set aside for the position of economic development director.
Faith McClintic resigned from the position in October after 19 months on the job.
“There’s a long way between now and a final decision on exactly how we’re going to achieve these things,” Foley said.
However, Foley will not be here when that decision is made, as he is leaving to become Stafford County’s administrator.
Dill questioned whether this is the time to move forward.
“We don’t have an economic director,” Dill said. “[Foley is] leaving. We have a new planning director.”
Dill suggested the county hire Foley’s replacement before proceeding.
“It might affect how we hire somebody,” he said. “We have other alternatives in terms of economic development, such as proactive zoning.”
However, Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said this is the perfect time to hire an adviser.
“It will gain us information that we desperately need in order to make any number of decisions that have been hanging over us for a long time,” Mallek said. “I would like to get the person working sooner than later.”
Supervisor Rick Randolph agreed.
“We’re at a juncture where we think we know where we want to go, and that’s even more reason to have this expert hired as a consultant,” Randolph said.
Foley did not provide details on when the consultant would be hired but said they would help establish a timeline.
“They’re going to tell us how realistic our schedule is to get things accomplished,” Foley said. “Issuing a request for proposals for a development adviser would be the first thing that they would do.”
This adviser would then work with the county to develop another request for proposals for the public-private partnership itself.
“The board would then go through a selection process for a partner and all of that would happen by August 2017 if we were to go to referendum to move the courts,” Foley said. “That’s a pretty ambitious schedule, and I just want you to know that.”
A circuit court judge would need to review and approve the question that would be on the November 2017 general election ballot.