BHC 08252019 Washington Co Courthouse 17

The former Kmart building that is being considered for the new Washington County Courthouse.

ABINGDON, Va. — Abingdon Town Council plans to consider adopting a resolution next week to oppose relocating the Washington County Courthouse, as proposed by the Washington County Board of Supervisors in an upcoming referendum.

“Citizens have asked us what your position is,” said Abingdon Mayor Wayne Craig, 79.

Town Manager Jimmy Morani drafted the resolution at the request of the Town Council, Morani said Wednesday.

“The Town Council of Abingdon, Virginia, opposes the relocation of the Washington County Courthouse to the former Kmart site and supports renovation and expansion of the existing courthouse facilities,” says the resolution, which is expected to be adopted on Tuesday, according to Morani.

This two-page resolution comes on the heels of the Board of Supervisors proposal to ask voters in a referendum on Nov. 5, “Shall the courthouse be removed to 300 Towne Centre Drive, and shall the Board of Supervisors be permitted to spend $30 million for purchase and renovation expenses therefor?”

Craig said, “We’re not telling anybody how to vote. We’re just telling them how the Town Council thinks about this issue and why.”

Morani, in turn, calls the resolution a “statement.”

“If there’s any potential relocation of a courthouse, absolutely the town needs to be involved,” Morani said. “Just like any other property owner or business would approach the town when they’re looking to relocate, or expanding their business, there’s not any difference.”

Traffic, zoning, parking

The resolution addresses traffic, zoning, parking — and an option to rebuild the courthouse that critics say has been

“buried” by the Board of Supervisors in favor of the Kmart proposal.

“Washington County has received a needs assessment report from Thompson & Litton [architecture firm], which includes an option for full renovation and expansion of the existing courthouse facilities at an estimated cost less than the option contained in the referendum,” the resolution states.

The resolution also notes that the address, 300 Towne Center Drive, is “generally known as the former Kmart site” and argues several points against the move:

» If the existing courthouse is moved to the former Kmart site, then traffic to access the moved courthouse will result in additional traffic along Cummings Street, which is already a very congested roadway;

» A recent traffic study commissioned by the Town of Abingdon indicates that two additional lanes will be required at the Cummings Street/Cook Street intersection when The Meadows development is completed;

» The two additional lanes of roadway are estimated to cost between $2 million and $3 million;

» Funding is not currently available for the additional two lanes;

» Washington County has not included the funds for this roadway improvement in its $30 million courthouse estimate;

» The extension of Cook Street, which is included in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan as well as a recent VDOT frontage road study, will need to be considered in conjunction with the development of the property and will increase the cost of the project;

» A courthouse at the former Kmart site will be inconsistent with the land use plan contained in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan;

» The former Kmart site is in a commercial zoning district (B-2), where a courthouse is not a permitted use;

» There are no land use concerns related to the renovation and expansion of the existing courthouse facilities;

» The Town of Abingdon has pledged by resolution to work cooperatively with Washington County if it chooses to renovate the existing courthouse and construct parking facilities;

» Relocation of the courthouse from its current location will have a negative economic impact on historic downtown and erode property values in the Town of Abingdon and Washington County.

‘We get it’

At Tuesday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Chairman Saul Hernandez addressed some concerns about the current courthouse in reference to the potential move.

“That building, it is a historical piece of property. We understand. It’s part of the character of the town. We get it,” Hernandez said. “Yes, there is an economic impact. We get it.”

Ramsey White, a former member of the Abingdon Planning Commission, spoke at the most recent Town Council meeting, held Aug. 15, urging the council to take a stand against the relocation, for fear that it would hurt downtown property values.

On Wednesday, Morani echoed White’s words.

“If property values are hurt and there’s a negative impact on downtown Abingdon, that not only hurts the town but also hurts the county,” Morani said Wednesday.

“Historic downtown is in Washington County. It hurts the entire region if there’s a negative economic impact to downtown Abingdon,” Morani said. “And a courthouse is a big operation that has a lot of different impacts on the community.”

‘Asked by the courts’

For years, county officials say they have studied whether to fix the 150-year-old Washington County Courthouse or even move out of the facility, which they say is too small and has security issues.

“We’ve been asked by the courts to make improvements to the courthouse,” Supervisor Randy Pennington said Tuesday.

Established in 2014, the current “Long Range Courthouse Planning Committee” met as recently as April 3, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Still, this committee has met several times without a town representative, even as the supervisors have passed annual resolutions stating the “Abingdon Town Manager” was a “stakeholder” in that committee.

“No one from the town attended meetings,” County Administrator Jason Berry said in an email Friday.

None of the most recent town managers for the past 15 months — Tony Sullivan, Ken Vittum and Morani — say they have been asked to be members of that committee.

“As far as the town, there were invitations when this committee was first started,” said Pennington, a member of the committee since 2016. “Whether someone reached out to Tony Sullivan or reached out to Ken Vittum, I can’t answer that.”

Craig, 79, questions why Vittum, an interim manager who served the town earlier this year, was not asked to attend the April 3 meeting, held at a time when Berry was in negotiations to consider purchasing the Kmart property, according to emails obtained by the Bristol Herald Courier.

“All of these issues that we have raised in the resolution would have been raised by Mr. Vittum,” Craig said Wednesday.

“Moving the courthouse, it raises all kinds of issues with the town — its ordinances, its traffic, its economics, its access to the courthouse,” Craig said. “It’s all kinds of issues.”

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jtennis@bristolnews.com | 276-791-0709 | @BHC_Tennis

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