Officials with the Piedmont Family YMCA are still waiting for a ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court before they can proceed with construction of a $16 million aquatic and fitness center on the western side of McIntire Park.
“Everybody is sort of waiting and seeing what’s going to happen,” said Kurt Krueger, chairman of the Piedmont Family YMCA. “The bank wants to know the Supreme Court isn’t going to rule against us.”
In May 2010, the Charlottesville Area Fitness Club Operators Association filed suit against Albemarle and Charlottesville. The association consists of ACAC and Gold’s Gym.
Their attorneys claim that the county and city’s commitments to help pay for the 77,000-square-foot facility violated the Virginia Public Procurement Act by donating $2 million and $1.25 million, respectively, to its construction.
Albemarle Circuit Judge Cheryl Higgins ruled in favor of the county in November 2010 and in favor of the city in April 2011. The case was then appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, which heard the case in June.
The court publishes opinions on the last day of its sessions, which are held throughout the year.
A ruling was expected in September, but an opinion was not released. YMCA officials then anticipated a ruling earlier this month, but once again a decision was not reached.
Krueger said there were many reasons why there could be a delay, but he has one theory.
“They don’t give you any hints about what they’re thinking, but logic would dictate there is some split among the justices in how they view this case,” Krueger said.
In December 2007, the City Council voted 3-2 to enter into a ground lease with the YMCA and execute it one month later.
However, the terms of the lease mean the council will once again have to vote to approve the project.
“If construction is not commenced within sixty (60) months of the execution of this Lease, this Lease shall terminate unless an extension of time is requested by the Lessee for good cause and agreed to by the city,” reads the lease.
Krueger said he has been in touch with city officials about asking for an extension.
“Since the Virginia Supreme Court is not scheduled to release its next opinions until Jan. 11, it would be hard for us to meet that deadline,” Krueger said. “It would strike me as not unreasonable to get the extension.”
Former City Councilor Kendra Hamilton was one of the votes against placing the YMCA in McIntire Park.
“We had just voted to carve a [Meadow Creek Parkway] through the park, “Then we were being asked to allow development in the park. I thought it was wrong and I think it is wrong now.”
Hamilton said the opening of the Smith Aquatic Fitness Center and the forthcoming opening of the new Carver Recreation Center demonstrates the city doesn’t need the YMCA.
Dave Norris is the only sitting City Councilor to have voted for the YMCA. He said he still supports the project.
“It’s all about leveraging non-governmental community resources to provide valuable enrichment opportunities for our kids, particularly for families who cannot afford to join private aquatic & fitness clubs,” Norris said. “Through the partnership with the Y, City taxpayers will save tens of millions of dollars over the coming decades by the City not having to build and operate a replacement facility for Crow Pool.”
Crowe Pool closed in October 2010 but has opened periodically to provide lanes to the YMCA.
The uncertainty comes at a time when both the city and county are in the preliminary stages of adopting a budget for the next fiscal year.
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker serves on oversight committee for Albemarle’s capital improvement program. He said in an email that he still supports the YMCA.
“We made a commitment to the YMCA, as did the city, and the Y has gone forward with its fundraising based upon those commitments,” Rooker said. “We will need to see what effect, if any, the lawsuit has on the YMCA’s ability to continue the project, but I don’t support pulling the rug out from under them.”
A representative from ACAC could not be reached for comment.
Krueger said he could not speculate on what might happen if the court sides with the fitness club owners without knowing how the ruling is written.
“If they rule against us, will they refer it back to the circuit court for any additional proceedings?” Krueger said. “There could be a whole bunch of things happening short of starting over.”
Earlier this year, the Piedmont Family YMCA entered into a partnership with Claudius Crozet Park to operate a year-round pool at that location.
“It opened up on Memorial Day and we were hoping that we could get 500 memberships over the course of the six months,” Kruger said. “By the end of June, we had 745 memberships.”