ABINGDON, Va. — Abingdon attorneys John Lamie and Byrum Geisler urged voters Thursday to reject the Nov. 5 referendum that could result in the relocation of the Washington County Courthouse to a vacant Kmart.
“I personally am very opposed to moving the courthouse,” Geisler told the Booklovers Club at the Washington County Public Library in Abingdon as part of a presentation Thursday.
About 60 people attended Thursday’s presentation, including Abingdon Mayor Wayne Craig, Vice Mayor Cindy Patterson, Town Manager Jimmy Morani and the town’s legal counsel, Cameron Bell.
Moving the courthouse off Courthouse Hill in the downtown district would “start creating big dead zones,” Geisler said. “It’s not the kind of place people like to come to anymore. It’s not a living, thriving, interesting place.”
Still, to alleviate security and space issues, county leaders unveiled a proposal earlier this year that could move court functions to the Kmart at 300 Towne Center Drive at a cost of $30 million.
Because such a proposal would require moving the circuit court, a referendum is required.
At Thursday’s meeting, attorney Jack White said he hosted County Administrator Jason Berry to speak on the proposal at a Kiwanis Club meeting on June 11.
At that time, White said, county leaders offered three options: build a new courthouse; partially renovate the existing courthouse; or move to the Kmart.
“It was very clear, when that meeting was over, that they were only serious about one option, and that was the so-called Kmart option,” White said.
Geisler pointed out a “fourth option” that would “fully restore” the current courthouse for about the same price — or less — than moving to the Kmart. But, Geisler said, that option has not been touted by county leaders.
“The county has an obligation to get all these facts out to the citizens where we’re all making an informed decision, and we all have the knowledge to debate this intelligently,” Geisler said.
On Aug. 5, the Washington County Board of Supervisors voted to place the Kmart option on the Nov. 5 ballot.
“A vote ‘no’ would tell them to leave it where it is,” Lamie said. “And I hope the voters will say ‘no.’”
Despite the referendum, Abingdon Town Council voted against rezoning the Kmart property for a courthouse. The town determined that a courthouse is not permitted in the building’s current B-2 general business district. A courthouse is only permitted in Abingdon’s historic district, a town zoning official said earlier.
Presently, however, county leaders are waiting to hear whether their appeal of that decision to Abingdon’s Board of Zoning Appeals will be approved, though that board will not meet again until Nov. 12 — a week after the election.