The future of the Water Street Parking Garage has become a mystery as revolving offers to acquire or sell the property — and implied threats — continue to circulate.
On Wednesday, following a court hearing in the ongoing legal dispute between the city of Charlottesville and Charlottesville Parking Center, an attorney hired to represent the city said it is preparing a legal case to force its partner out of the garage, if necessary.
With an equal number of seats on the Water Street Parking Garage Condominium Association’s board of directors, the city and the parking center have been deadlocked over the center’s proposal to raise garage rates to what CPC says is closer to a fair market value.
After the city’s representatives on the board blocked that proposal, CPC then sued the city, alleging that it is acting as a detriment to CPC’s financial interest and actively competing against the parking center by colluding to keep the Water Street garage’s rates lower than the city-owned Market Street Garage.
Last week, the city offered to buy CPC’s share of the garage for $2.8 million.
According to Tom Wolf, the city’s counsel in the case, the city will attempt to block the petition and may try to prove there has been a negative impact on the public good and use eminent domain to acquire the spaces.
“It entails getting an appraisal done and then making an offer for the spaces in accordance with the appraisal,” Wolf said. “After that, the city could file suit and proceed with eminent domain.”
CPC is currently waiting for a response to its petition for a third party to manage the condominium association and operate the garage for at least 30 days.
With less than two weeks before a management agreement between the condominium association and Charlottesville Parking Center expires, both parties will have to wait until the last week of the month before the judge makes a decision.
Both parties appeared in court Wednesday to arrange another hearing in the case regarding the CPC’s petition for emergency receivership.
A hearing on the petition has tentatively been scheduled for June 27. June 28 and 29 are being considered as contingency dates.
A settlement seemed close at hand recently. Per an email Wolf sent last week to CPC’s attorneys, the city had withdrawn an offer to sell the city’s share of the garage and settle the litigation for $10 million.
Before the start of Wednesday’s court hearing, Councilor Bob Fenwick said the city’s negotiating team may have made that plan. He said he was unaware the city had offered to sell the spaces.
City Attorney Craig Brown said city and CPC representatives met for settlement discussions a few days before the council meeting. He said the meeting was not "fruitful," and that the conversations were "confidential."
Fenwick said the council later decided in a closed session to make an offer for the CPC’s parking spaces. The decision was then validated by the unanimous approval of a resolution requesting staff to prepare and make the offer.
Dave Norris, the former mayor who is now general manager of the CPC, said the parking center filed the petition to put the garage in receivership in response to an “informal” notice the city provided after the council resolution was passed.
Norris said CPC was told that if they declined the offer, the city would pursue the use of eminent domain to resolve the ongoing legal dispute.
“It’s like pushing the nuclear button,” he said. “When you resort to that kind of threat, all rationality goes out the window.”
“Eminent domain is not designed to resolve pricing disputes. It’s only meant to be used as a last resort” when dealing with properties that are blight or in the way of major infrastructure projects, he said.
Norris argued that a privately owned garage would serve the public interest, as CPC could pay for major improvements to the garage with its own capital and the additional revenue generated by higher rates.
He said the city’s decision to “prolong” the litigation compounds other ongoing issues the city is facing when it comes to public parking needs, adding that CPC is the only institution in town attempting to expand parking.
City spokeswoman Miriam Dickler refuted the latter claim in an email: “The City of Charlottesville is actively working on efforts to improve and expand parking downtown.”
In response to public concerns about parking downtown, the city is expected to transfer $500,000 to establish a department that will manage public parking. The action is included in the consent agenda for Monday’s council meeting.
The department will eventually be responsible for managing parking meters that are expected to pop up downtown sometime soon as part of a short-term pilot program. The funding will be used “for staffing, infrastructure related to the installation of a metering system, feasibility studies of potential new parking facilities” and other costs needed to establish the department.
Dickler said there is no timeline for when the meters will be installed. She said staff is currently preparing the request for proposals from contractors.