Land offer adds new option for expansion of Loudoun courts

December 3, 2012

The developer of a property on the southern edge of Leesburg has offered to donate land to Loudoun County for the expansion of the county’s courts, giving the Board of Supervisors a new option to consider as members try to decide which location would be best.

In a Nov. 19 letter to the chairman of the board’s finance committee, Jon Peterson, senior vice president of Peterson Cos., offered to give the county sufficient land for a 120,000-square-foot court complex in the Crosstrail development, near Battlefield Parkway, between the Dulles Greenway and Leesburg Executive Airport.

Peterson said in the letter that moving the courts to Crosstrail would avoid the traffic and congestion that would increase if the courts were to expand downtown. He said the move would also avoid the need for the voter referendum that would be required to move the Circuit Court outside Leesburg, because a portion of the Crosstrail property is inside the town limits.

Paul Brown, division manager for the county’s Department of Construction and Waste Management, told the Finance, Government Services and Operations Committee on Nov. 20 that the referendum issue would still have to be explored, along with other questions raised by the proposal.

Brown pointed out that Peterson Cos. offered only sufficient land for future expansion of the courts, not for the relocation of the existing courts. About 244,000 square feet is needed to relocate and expand all three courts, design manager Melissa Poole said.

“I think they misunderstood your board item from October,” Brown said. He said that county staff members will meet with the developer to clarify the proposal.

In the letter, Peterson said that the county would have to obtain site plan approval for the courts complex and pay half the cost of extending sewer lines to the property.

The committee is considering several options for expanding court facilities to meet increasing court caseloads and other needs resulting from Loudoun’s rapid population growth. Moving the Circuit, General District, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts from downtown Leesburg is one option. Other possibilities include moving some but not all courts or expanding the court facilities downtown.

County staff members had previously recommended moving the General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts to a county-owned facility outside the town limits, while keeping the Circuit Court downtown. That was before stakeholders representing Loudoun County’s judicial, legal and law enforcement communities addressed the committee Oct. 22, saying the three courts should be kept together.

On Nov. 20, county staff members instead recommended that the next phase of courts expansion occur downtown, at the site of the former jail at Church and Market streets. Rather than act on that recommendation, the committee directed staff to evaluate the Peterson offer.

“The Peterson proposition offers a gift of land to the county,” finance committee chairman Ralph M. Buona said. “And while my personal, cursory review
. . . says it’s inadequate, I think we at least owe it to our constituents and the taxpayers to look at that potential gift and see if there’s any viability to it.”

Leesburg District Supervisor Kenneth D. “Ken” Reid said he had heard that the Peterson proposal was “not unsolicited” and that members of the board had asked Peterson to submit the offer. “This makes it look like we are being partial to one property owner in the town of Leesburg,” Reid said.

Buona and board Chairman Scott K. York responded emphatically that they had not solicited the proposal.

“I have not talked to the Peterson company,” York said. “I had no conversation with them in probably two or three years, and certainly not about this particular proposal.”

“It came in unsolicited,” Buona said, adding that he did not plan on entertaining any other proposals or public-private partnerships.

“It is my hope that we can make the site in downtown Leesburg work,” he said. “That is my hope.”

York said that he also would prefer to keep the courts downtown. “I have said all along, and I’ll restate it again, that I have absolutely no desire to move it out of where it’s at right now, subject to it being able to . . . resolve in my mind some of the issues that have floated up between all parties.

“I hope at the end of the day for myself that everything works out, the resolution will be that we can expand the complex here in its current location,” York said. “I’m not quite 100 percent there, but I think that I will be in January, to make a decision.”

The committee voted to resume its discussion of the courts expansion next month, after staff members evaluate Peterson’s proposal and meet with town representatives to discuss a list of concerns associated with expanding the courts downtown. Those issues include the town’s land-use requirements, connection of the new space to existing court facilities on the other side of Church Street, the need for more parking and transportation concerns.

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