Parking wars: City fires back in Water Street Garage death match

The city didn’t tell Mark Brown it was passing a resolution to buy him out of the Water Street Garage.

Staff photo The city didn’t tell Mark Brown it was passing a resolution to buy him out of the Water Street Garage. Staff photo

Despite concerns that the Water Street Garage could close should the company that manages it and Charlottesville not resolve their escalating legal battle, the city filed a counterclaim April 29 against Charlottesville Parking Center one day after owner Mark Brown sent a letter urging the city to sell the complicatedly owned garage to him.

And that’s on top of the city being in default of its agreement with CPC, which, if not resolved by May 6, could mean the garage will be without an operator. Rumors of the garage’s closing prompted George Benford, chair of the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville, to write City Council and Brown and urge them to settle their differences.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen May 6,” says Brown.

“We’re working to avoid that,” says Chris Engel, director of the city’s economic development office, when asked on April 27 whether the garage could close, two days before the city’s latest volley.

The counterclaim alleges the parking center conspired with Wells Fargo when the bank sold its parking spaces in the garage to CPC without offering them to the city, which has a right of first refusal.

“Why wouldn’t the city sue Wells Fargo for not giving them right of first refusal?” wonders former CPC shareholder Richard Spurzem, who adds that he has used Tom Wolf, the Richmond LeClairRyan attorney the city has hired. “If anyone can get the city out of this legal morass, it is Tom Wolf,” says Spurzem. “But he is very expensive.”

On April 28, Brown sent a five-page letter to the city, detailing its tangled history of leasing the land for the parking garage from CPC in 1994 to an entity called the Water Street Parking Garage Condominium Association, whose board currently is deadlocked with the city and CPC, each holding four seats. Brown reminds the city its ground lease expires in 2024, and when it does, the municipality will likely be unable to afford to renew the lease at market rates.

He also notes there are 400 spaces in the garage that are usually empty and reserved for monthly parkers that could be freed up with state-of-the-art technology, which the city cannot afford, to more effectively manage demand. The lack of investment in the garage, he writes, has resulted in a “substandard garage that permits 400 parking spaces per day to sit unused.”

Exiting the garage can take an hour at peak times, which is “unacceptable,” says Brown. He urges the city to sell its shares in the garage to him so he can make the necessary improvements and free up the unused spaces.

“I sent the letter to the city in an attempt to find some common ground and de-escalate the situation,” says Brown. “I was very surprised to see the city’s counterclaim against us and I believe they are also accusing Wells Fargo of being our co-conspirator.”

Brown sued the city in February, accusing it of forcing him to run the garage at below-market rates.

The big question is will the city’s dispute with Mark Brown close the Water Street Garage. Both sides say no—while escalating the battle.

brown letter to City Council 4-28-16

city counterclaim 4-29-16

Correction 6-8-16: Tom Wolf’s name was misspelled in the original version.

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