ABINGDON, Va. — Attorneys across Abingdon railed against a plan to move operations from the Washington County Courthouse during a meeting of the Washington County Bar Association last Wednesday.
A series of attorneys spoke against the move, saying such a change would hurt real estate prices, cause inconvenience and leave behind empty buildings at the center of Abingdon.
“It needs to stay where it is,” said longtime Abingdon attorney Emmitt Yeary.
The current courthouse has about 48,000 square feet, while an engineering study says it needs about 88,000 square feet, according to County Administrator Jason Berry.
Berry helped facilitate Wednesday’s meeting of the Washington County Bar Association, which was attended by most members of the Washington County Board of Supervisors.
For months, the board has studied how to address security issues, space problems and a lack of parking facilities at the 150-year-old courthouse on Main Street in Abingdon.
Cameron Bell, a local attorney who also works for the town of Abingdon, said, “There’s lots of parking available any time of the day.”
Bell said “a parking problem” for the county courthouse is an “overstatement.”
Three options are currently on the table: expanding the current courthouse; constructing a new courthouse building; or buying the old Kmart in Abingdon and repurposing it as a courthouse structure.
But, on Wednesday, attorneys said other options should be offered, including taking some offices out of the courthouse building to alleviate congestion.
Yeary said moving the courthouse to the former Kmart location would be like building a tourist attraction that visitors would laugh at.
“To put a courthouse in this location would be a mistake,” Yeary said. “And be a laughingstock.”
More attorneys questioned why the Board of Supervisors has favored the Kmart option over building a new courthouse or simply fixing the problems that are in the current courthouse.
On Wednesday, members of the Washington County Bar Association — with about 50 attorneys present — voted unanimously on a motion that says they want to keep the courthouse at its current location and urged the Board of Supervisors to have it expanded to meet future needs.
The Board of Supervisors is slated to meet Aug. 5 at 6 p.m. to decide whether to file a court petition to hold a referendum in November on moving court functions from the county courthouse.
A petition would need to be filed, and an order from the court has to be issued by Aug. 16 in order to be on the November ballot, according to County Attorney Lucy Phillips.
Yet, on Wednesday, members of the bar association said that there is no rush and that a referendum could wait.