The Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville sent a letter to city councilors and Charlottesville Parking Center owner Mark Brown today requesting the city and the CPC “reach a quick agreement on the parking stalemate” over the Water Street Garage and withdraw “extreme threats” such as eminent domain and closing the garage.
Mary Beth Schellhammer wrote on behalf of the DBAC board of directors to ask the city and Brown to consider the “significant impact the lack of resolution is having on the image of downtown Charlottesville.”
An impasse over parking rates at the garage, jointly owned by the city and Brown, has escalated to lawsuits, with the city saying last week it had begun the condemnation process on the garage for eminent domain, while Brown filed to have an emergency receivership appointed to run the garage.
“I think this is a very welcome development,” says Dave Norris, CPC general manager and a former mayor of Charlottesville. “Anytime government threatens eminent domain, it really is pushing a nuclear button.”
Two weeks ago, members of the DBAC were circulating petitions urging the city not to sell its shares in the garage at the same time the parking center said it was on the verge of a settlement with the city. At the June 6 City Council meeting, councilors passed a surprise resolution to buy Brown’s shares of the garage.
“The consistent theme is DBAC communicating they want to see this matter resolved,” says Norris. “They want to be able to preserve affordable parking downtown. That’s their bottom line.”
Norris says he thinks some DBAC members were uncomfortable with the city’s threat to use eminent domain against fellow business owners. “If you read between the lines, they’re saying don’t use eminent domain in our name,” he says.
“The letter is not going back on anything we’ve said,” says Schellhammer. “Time is critical. We’re stressing to the city and Mark Brown not to let this drag on.” If a receiver is appointed to manage the garage, “this could go on for three, four, five years,” she says.
As for eminent domain, she says she doesn’t know that’s needed and there’s room for everyone downtown. “I believe Mark Brown deserves to own a business and be profitable. The city deserves to be able to provide affordable parking.”
The escalating dispute, she says, “is a bully fight.”
The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce also wants the city and CPC to negotiate a settlement. “Eminent domain is a hammer that isn’t necessary,” says its president, Timothy Hulbert.