ABINGDON, Va. — After mulling over the wording, the Washington County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved sending flyers to county voters informing them about the potential move of the county courthouse to Abingdon’s former Kmart building.
The supervisors voted 5-2, with Supervisor Phillip McCall and Vice Chairwoman Allison Mays opposing the plan, to spend more than $20,000 on the flyers.
The mailers note that the current courthouse has 49,000 square feet; Virginia Supreme Court guidelines say the county needs 82,773 square feet; and the proposed new location has 89,880 square feet.
The flyer also notes that the current courthouse has parking, accessibility and security issues.
Supervisor Dwayne Ball made the motion to mail the flyers, seconded by Supervisor Eddie Copenhaver, stating: “Your vote counts. If the majority votes yes, then courthouse operations will be moved. If the majority votes no, then operations must continue at the current location, and the county cannot have another referendum election on removal of the courthouse for ten years.”
Ball said the flyer is necessary so that voters are not “scrambling” to understand what the referendum means when they approach the ballot box on Nov. 5.
Moving the courthouse would be historic, considering the first courthouse was built at the current location on Courthouse Hill in Abingdon in 1779 during the Revolutionary War.
Abingdon attorney Byrum Geisler said during public comments that he still has concerns that the mailer leaves out a less expensive option — “fully” restoring the courthouse at its current location for $24 million and meeting all Virginia Supreme Court guidelines.
Additionally, Geisler said the mailed statement needs to contain wording that says the Kmart option is not currently allowed under zoning ordinances in Abingdon.
“It’s still not a neutral statement,” Geisler said.
The town’s zoning official recently determined that the courthouse can’t be relocated to the vacant Kmart building in the Exit 17 area of Abingdon because the B-2 general business district’s zoning allowances for a “public office” would not include a courthouse. A courthouse is only allowed in Abingdon’s historic district, the zoning official said.
The county is appealing that decision, but the appeal won’t be considered until after the election.
Copenhaver, in turn, said “zoning is a problem” in making the Kmart building a courthouse. But, he added, including the zoning issue would be “negative” and the flyer is “supposed to be neutral.”
Supervisor Mike Rush noted that the referendum is not a multiple choice issue.
“This is a singular question on whether the courthouse will be moved or not,” Rush said. “The voters will decide whether or not they think the courthouse will be moved.”