Augusta County moving on from effort to locate new courthouse in Staunton
According to a statement from the board released Tuesday, the county is now under the throes of a court order to address the needs for a secure and safe courts facility, so, there’s that.
County voters back in 2016 voted in a landslide against a proposed $45 million court complex in Verona, and by state law, the BOS can’t take any proposals for moving the county seat from Staunton until 2026.
So, there’s that.
Pretty much, then, the county is stuck trying to do something in Staunton.
That hasn’t been going well.
The county was presented with an opportunity to purchase property adjacent to the 1901 circuit courthouse last summer. A courthouse expansion in that scenario would have housed a combined city-county juvenile and domestic relations court, general district court, and circuit court in addition to court-related services.
Representatives from the county met with representatives from Staunton to discuss the potential property acquisitions and the county’s courthouse needs and limitations dictated by the state code, which limits expansion to only the existing parcels adjacent to or across the street from the county seat (the current courthouse), and concerns about Lewis Creek and its floodplain.
Last fall, the county applied for a certificate of appropriateness with the Staunton Historic Preservation Commission. This application included descriptions, drawings, photographs, plans and documentation as required.
There was public outcry over demolition of the buildings within the purchase options and against the size of the proposed building and in the end the Historic Preservation Commission denied the county’s proposal.
The BOS filed an appeal to Staunton City Council to approve the certificate of appropriateness. The appeal was deferred for two months at the request of City Council, and ultimately, City Council requested that the county withdraw the appeal, which it did, back in January.
The county then shifted gears, and initiated discussions with representatives of Atlantic Union Bank to explore opportunities for purchase of their downtown building. Atlantic Union Bank set a purchase price of $8.19 million, a steep price for a building with an assessed value of $1.9 million.
The purchase of the Atlantic Union Bank building is considered the last avenue to pursue, according to the statement released today by the Board of Supervisors.
From the statement:
“Again, there are legal limitations dictating the location of the new courts’ facility, that meet Staunton’s requirements as well as the public’s desires. Additionally, there are significant limitations on the demolition of buildings and the size as well as aesthetic view of the building due to Staunton’s historical preservation requirements.
“The Augusta County Board of Supervisors has discussed the current issues and constraints with constructing a suitable, secure, and safe courts facility. After considering the limited options available and, in light of not obtaining a resolution acceptable to the county, the city, and its citizens, the Board of Supervisors feels it has exhausted all viable options available to the county for locating the court facilities in the City of Staunton.”
“Yesterday, under a procedure established by state law to ensure the security and good repair of court facilities, the Circuit Courts for the City of Staunton and Augusta County began a judicial process concerning the improvement of the condition of Augusta County’s court facilities in the City of Staunton. Orders entered by the courts as a part of the judicial process address the condition of two buildings owned by the county, including its circuit court building at 1 East Johnson Street and its district courts building at 6 East Johnson Street.
“Although the two buildings are owned by the county, the city leases a portion of the district courts building for the operation of its juvenile and domestic relations district court. The maintenance of the building is the responsibility of the county under an agreement between the county and the city.
“The judicial process follows the county’s unsuccessful efforts to acquire property owned by Atlantic Union Bank and located across South Augusta Street from the county’s historic courthouse, on which it hoped to construct a new court facility to serve its needs for years to come.
“The city cooperated fully with the county in its efforts to acquire and redevelop the bank property and is disappointed that those efforts have not met with success.
“City officials will evaluate the orders entered by the courts to determine an appropriate response on the part of the city.
“The city maintains its strong commitment to the preservation of the historic architecture of its downtown while simultaneously working with the county to meet its needs.”
Story by Chris Graham