Washington County Courthouse

Washington County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Kyle Hayes shows the tight quarters of the Juvenile and Domestic courtroom.

ABINGDON, Va. — Washington County Administrator Jason Berry filed an appeal Thursday of the town of Abingdon’s zoning determination that the county courthouse can’t be moved to a vacant Kmart building.

That appeal is slated to go to the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), a group that has not met since May 2018, according to Ramsey White, a BZA member and former member of the town’s Planning Commission.

White, 74, of Abingdon, is a downtown property owner who spoke against the potential move of the courthouse at an Abingdon Town Council work session Aug. 15.

In the upcoming election on Nov. 5, voters in Washington County are being asked if the county courthouse should move to the Kmart at a cost of $30 million.

What’s at issue, however, is an August decision by Jason Boswell, the town’s zoning administrator, that the courthouse cannot be relocated to the B-2 General Business District because zoning allowances for “public office” would not include a courthouse. A courthouse is only allowed in Abingdon’s Old and Historic District, he said.

“The BZA is asked to determine whether the Zoning Determination complies with the town’s Zoning Ordinance and state law,” the appeal states.

The appeal argues that Boswell’s zoning determination “insufficiently characterizes the nature of activities in the courthouse and inaccurately applied a principal of statutory interpretation.”

Another argument in the appeal states that the “Zoning Determination overreaches authority of Town Zoning.”

The BZA has 90 days to hear the county’s appeal, said Washington County Attorney Lucy Phillips.

The case, according to Phillips, could potentially be heard on Nov. 12, a week after the election, as meetings of the BZA are usually held on the second Tuesday of the month, and the deadline for the case to be heard in October has passed.

If the BZA rules unfavorably, the county could appeal the case to Washington County circuit court, Phillips said.

“This preserves the right to go to circuit court,” Phillips added.

Likewise, if the decision is in the county’s favor, Abingdon officials could also appeal the case to circuit court, she said.

Both Abingdon Mayor Wayne Craig and Town Manager Jimmy Morani said Thursday that they could not comment on the appeal.

Still, Town Council has voiced opposition in recent weeks, saying that moving court functions to the Kmart at 300 Towne Centre Drive in the Exit 17 area of Abingdon does not follow the town’s plans or zoning practices.

Because the Nov. 5 election could decide the location of the county’s circuit court, a conflict of interest could occur if this case goes to circuit court, said Phillips, who expects a substitute judge might hear any potential case.

“I don’t know that for sure, but I would expect that to happen,” she said.

A lack of space and security issues have ranked as reasons county leaders voted unanimously on Aug. 5 to potentially relocate the county’s 150-year-old courthouse from its current location on Abingdon’s Main Street.

At a meeting of the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, however, Supervisor Phillip McCall and Vice Chairman Allison Mays voted against appealing the zoning decision.

Both McCall and Mays represent Abingdon and are up for election on Nov. 5.

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