Fairfax County government has much to gain by moving out its long-time home in the middle of Fairfax City, but it would be a mistake to also move a new courthouse planned for the present site.
That, in summary, is the opinion of a special citizen's group that has been studying whether to relocate the headquaters of county government. The study, which began in November, was conducted at the request of the County Board of Supervisors. The group has recommended that the county administrative center move to a 154-acre site near I-66 and U.S. Rte. 50 west Fairfax City.
The supervisors have long discussed the need for more office space as they have watched the government expansion that has accompanied the rapid growth of the county. Government workers now fill the Massey Building, the county's 12-story administrative tower in the center of Fairfax City, and are spilling over into leased space elsewhere in the city. Their ranks are expected to furthur expand during the next 40 years as the county continues to grow.
Whether to move the still-unbuilt courthouse and the other administrative offices out of the city where they have been since 1800 has been a central issue in the supervisors' consideration of relocating county government.
Some of the supervisors have said they feel the courts should be included in a new governmental complex, if the administrative offices are moved at all. The supervisors asked the citizens group to reconsider its recommendation against moving the planned courthouse, but a second vote against came out overwhelmingly against the courthouse move.
"I think most of us felt it would cost too much to start all over planning a new courthouse on a new site to make the move worthwhile," said Joseph T. O'Connor, deputy clerk to Fairfax County Circuit Court who served as the courts representative on the citizens group.
Fairfax County voters approved $18.7 million in bonds last year to built the new courthouse, which would be located adjacent to the Massey Building on 48 acres of county-owned land in Fairfax City. The courthouse has been planned and designed, and construction bids are expected to be sought in December.
The cost of building a new courthouse elsewhere would increase substantially, according to the citizen group's detailed 500-page report. If the courthouse were moved with the government complex, there would be at least a three-year delay in its construction at a cost of $150,000 a month, the report said.
Barnard D. Jennings, chief judge of the Circuit Court, said he looks unfavourably on a delay of any kind. Under Virginia law, a chief circuit court judge has the power to initiate proceedings that could result in the building of a new courthouse.
"We are absolutely desperate for space around here," Jennings said.
In addition, a courthouse built outside Fairfax City would have to be larger to accommodate more courts than called for in the present design. The county has planned to move the circuit court and district court into the new building and leave the juvenile domestic relations court in the existing courthouse on Chain Bridge Road.
"It would make no sense to split up the courts by moving just the new courthouse out of the city, you'd have to move the whole thing," O'Connor said. "And $18.7 million wouldn't even begin to scratch the surface of building something like that."
O'Connor said some members of the committee doubted that another bond and referendum to build a larger and more expensive courthouse would be approved by the voters.
There are other problems, too, it was said. A new jail recently was built near the present courthouse, with the ideal that another courthouse would be added at the same site. O'Connor said he fears the county would risk more prisoner escapes by transporting prisoners out of the city to a court in thecounty.
If other governmental offices move out of town and the courthouses stay where they are, a sort of judicial center would be created out of the current government site, it was said.
Fairfax City Mayor Nathaniel Young said he is "not displeased" by that sort of development. Fairfax City and Fairfax County have been engaged in a running fued over contracts for services the country provides the city. In the past, Young has said the fued was the reason the county has considered moving its headquaters out of the city. County officials have denied Young's charge, saying their motivation for relocation is based solely on the need to provide adequate space for future government growth.
"The courthouse is the fundamental thing," Young said. "That is what attracts the lawyers and the lawyers attract the engineers and so on . . . Some of the leased space the county uses would clear out for awhile , but that would fill up again in short order."
He said the absence of county offices also might reduce traffic congestion in the city, and "that might be good for Fairfax City."
The committee report said that if the administaation moves outside Fairfax City, the county would gain $15 million in tax revenues over the next 40 years from business development near governmental complexes.Currently, it was said, that revenue goes to Fairfax City.The county would gain an estimated $29 million if the courthouse were included in the move.
The citizens group reported that Fairfax County would spend about $110 million to stay at its present site over the next 40 years, compared to about $60 million by moving to its recommended site outside Fairfax City.
The Board of Supervisors Tuesday set a public hearing on the issue for 7:30 p.m. March 27 in the Massey Building board room in Fairfax City.