The Charlottesville City Council has voted to purchase a 39-space surface parking lot for $1.6 million. The 0.4 acre property is located at 921 East Jefferson Street and includes 39 parking spaces, which will cost $42,000 each. Councilors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to buy the lot, with Michael Payne dissenting.
City staff advised the purchase, expressing concern that the city is facing parking capacity issues in the city center and that the property offers parking within a five-minute walk of the hotel city hall, Ting pavilion and downtown shopping mall.
The city’s director of economic development, Chris Engel, also said the purchase could help fulfill a parking agreement with Albemarle County as part of a joint court complex project. The agreement contains a number of provisions and specifically requires the city to provide the county with 90 parking spaces.
In June 2021, the City Council voted against building an additional $11.3 million parking deck on 7th Street to honor the courts’ agreement, deciding to consider other options, including the designation of 90 spaces in existing downtown garages. The proposed parking lot would have required the demolition of two local businesses – a Lucky 7 convenience store and a Guadalajara Mexican restaurant.
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Engel confirmed that the Market Street Garage was only 60% busy during peak hours in May. But he said the city has reached monthly pass parking capacity in that garage, and his concern is that if the city adds the spaces designated in the courts agreement but does not add additional sources of parking , “this will push occupancy well above 85%.”
“You would jeopardize the health of the business community,” Engel said.
Engel said he couldn’t guarantee the city wouldn’t tear down these businesses in the future to build additional parking lots. However, he said buying the lot would lessen the need to do so, at least in the short term.
According to the proposal, there is no impact on the General Fund budget. The Capital Improvement Fund account designated for the 7th Street parking lot will be reduced by $1.6 million as a result of the purchase.
Payne voiced his opposition to the purchase, saying that while he understands why the purchase might make sense to honor the courts’ agreement and prevent the city from spending millions building a new garage, he s worried about what will happen later.
“If we’re going to buy this and at some point we’re still tearing down Lucky 7 and Guadalajara, or building a new parking lot there, that doesn’t make sense to me,” Payne said. “If we have the creativity to spend $1.6 million to acquire land for [parking]I hope we expand this creativity to acquire land for housing and public spaces.
Other councilors backed the decision because it could potentially prevent more expensive garages from being built or renovated and would help enforce the courts’ agreement.
“We don’t have to spend millions to convert it…it’s basically ready to go,” Mayor Lloyd Snook said.
The resolution did not require a public hearing, however, some members of the public spoke out against buying the lot earlier in the meeting.
“Excuse me, but where are your priorities? City resident Nancy Carpenter said. She said the money used to buy the land could be used for other needs, including an emergency homeless shelter.
Carpenter said the $42,000 the city will spend on a parking space as part of the purchase could be spent on one person’s housing for a year.
Town resident Matthew Gillikin expressed skepticism about the need for the additional parking, saying existing garages on Water Street and Market Street are often not full.
“The narrative of the report you received suggests that there are significant parking constraints downtown, which is not accurate,” Gillikin said. “There are tons of ways the city could spend $1.6 million better.”