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Augusta County seeks deal with City of Staunton on courthouse move

Staunton
(© Richard – stock.adobe.com)

The Augusta County Board of Supervisors and Staunton City Council are reviewing the details of a proposed arrangement that would ensure the city’s support of legislation authorizing the county to build a consolidated court facility in Verona.

The proposed arrangement offers mutual understanding for a long-term solution to improving the county’s circuit, general district, and juvenile and domestic relations district courts.

Under the arrangement, the county will transfer the historic 1901 courthouse, district court buildings, and adjacent properties to the city, contingent upon approval by the General Assembly of the recently proposed legislation.

“Consolidating our courts in Verona would be the most economic and efficient solution and would effectively move the county seat to the county,” Board Chair Gerald Garber said. “Placing our court system in close proximity to our government processes would strengthen both while setting the stage for Augusta County’s future. This fitting solution could not happen without the certainty of the City of Staunton being an excellent steward of the historic properties.”

Earlier this month, county officials informed the city that the county has no interest in maintaining its court facilities in Staunton even if the city were to make a financial contribution to a county project in the city.  The communication from the county convinced city officials to shift their objective to the control of five county-owned properties at the intersection of Augusta and Johnson streets, and the preservation and adaptive reuse of the historic 1901 courthouse.

The proximity of a new courthouse in Verona to county departments, agencies and authorities, including the regional jail and sheriff’s office, makes this location ideal for operational and cost effectiveness, for convenient access to the highway, and for ample and free parking. Additionally, the establishment of a centralized government complex increases the potential for economic growth in and around the area, expanding a tax base that ultimately benefits Augusta County citizens.

The board has pursued numerous solutions to address the building and renovation of a suitable courts facility in Downtown Staunton. Efforts have been challenged with legal restrictions dictating the location, significant construction limitations including the demolition of existing buildings and complications from building within a floodplain, and the size and aesthetics of new buildings in compliance with Staunton’s historical preservation requirements.

Construction and restoration of existing court facilities in Staunton is unlikely to meet all of the guidelines for court facilities as outlined in the Supreme Court’s Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines.

Without new legislation, under current state law, the county is precluded from moving its courts from Staunton without a referendum, which can next be conducted in 2026.  The county has included legislation permitting an earlier move in its legislative priorities for the 2022 General Assembly session and has requested that State Sen. Emmett Hanger and Del. John Avoli support the initiative.

With the property acquisition, the city would own and control the five properties and their future uses, including possible preservation, adaptive reuse and redevelopment.  The city’s acquisition would also eliminate the risk that the buildings, located at the core of the city’s central business district, might sit vacant and unused for an extended period of time, a possibility if the county were to secure approval of a relocation to Verona by referendum in 2026.

Progress on widely recognized, needed improvements to the county’s court facilities in Staunton has proved elusive, despite engagement between the city and the county for more than a decade.  With the county’s decision to pivot to Verona, the city—by its participation in the proposed arrangement—would achieve the best possible outcome for the city, its businesses and its residents.

The Augusta County Board of Supervisors will consider approval of the proposed arrangement at their next meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the Augusta County Government Center.

Staunton City Council will formally consider the proposed arrangement with the county at its meeting on Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m., in the Rita S. Wilson Council Chambers in City Hall.


augusta free press
augusta free press