Mayor Mike Signer and City Councilor Kathy Galvin insist there is nothing personal in the city’s dispute with Mark Brown over control of the Water Street Parking Garage. In meetings with reporters July 6 after the city rejected Charlottesville Parking Center’s June 24 proposed settlement of the escalating controversy over the fate of the garage the city co-owns with Brown, the two said they decided to answer questions about the issue to demonstrate the unanimity of council.
“It’s a very unusual set of circumstances,” says Signer, because the other side at every turn has tried to “create a sense of panic.”
The city’s June 6 resolution to make an offer to buy out Brown’s share of spaces at Charlottesville Parking Center was not a change in course after months of discussions with Brown, says Galvin. His lawsuit against the city over parking rates and his threats to close the garage “make us think that single ownership of the garage should be with the city.”
The parking center’s proposed settlement, says Signer, was not a response to the city’s offer to buy out Brown.
In the CPC settlement proposal that came one day after the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville sent the city and Brown a letter urging both sides to tone down the “extreme threats” and four days before a judge denied CPC’s petition to appoint a receiver for the garage, general manager Dave Norris basically ceded control of the garage to the city as far as rates, as long as the city paid the difference in fair market rate to CPC.
It was Brown’s insistence on being able to profit from the public/private partnership that was the breaking point. The councilors reiterated that the Water Street Parking Garage Condominium Association agreement “does not contemplate pecuniary gain or profit to the members thereof…”
Throughout the discussions, says Signer, Brown accused the city of “stealing my money.”
That CPC wanted the city to subsidize his share “suggests a sense of entitlement,” says Galvin. “It reinforced the sense we should go our own way.” CPC can still manage the garage for one year, rather than the five years it wanted in its proposal, the city said in its response. “His behavior has destabilized the community,” she says.
“The soap opera has all been on one side,” adds Signer.
And that soap opera includes Brown’s March 14 lawsuit against the city, the city’s April 29 countersuit that claims it didn’t get the right of first refusal on spaces CPC bought from Wells Fargo and the DBAC splintering over the garage, with one faction saying it wasn’t taking sides, while Violet Crown hired Susan Payne, who did PR for Signer’s council campaign, to sway downtown businesses to urge the city not to sell out to Brown.
“We’ve tried to be stabilizing,” says Signer. “The more deliberate we’ve been, the more erratic he’s been.”
And the city is still not ruling out eminent domain as a remedy, “one that we would consider only reluctantly,” says Signer.
The attorney Brown hired to handle any eminent domain moves by the city, John Walk, in a July 11 letter, rebuffed the city’s $2.8 million offer to buy Brown’s shares of the garage, and said it would cost the city at least $9 million, based on the tax assessed value, to buy him out. Not that he’s selling, says Walk, who reminds the city Virginia’s constitution prohibits the use of eminent domain for economic development.
The CPC camp has maintained that it thought an agreement was almost a done deal during negotiations June 2, the same night DBAC held a meeting at Violet Crown. Norris says Signer specifically asked Brown not to send Norris to that meeting, something Norris now says was a mistake.
“We said we weren’t planning on attending,” says Signer. “Ms. Galvin said she wasn’t going to be there. With the ongoing litigation, we said it wasn’t a good idea for us to be there. I think they’re reading way too much into that,” he says, calling the CPC depiction “false theatrics.”
Norris did not immediately return a phone call.
Sitting outside the conference room in City Hall where Signer and Galvin were meeting with reporters, Payne handed out a statement expressing the support of Violet Crown and many downtown businesses for the city holding firm in its decision to pursue affordable parking in the Water Street Garage.
Updated July 11 with Brown’s eminent domain attorney’s letter to the city.