ABINGDON, Va. — This is it.
If the voters say no to moving the Washington County Courthouse to the old Abingdon Kmart on Nov. 5, they won’t have another chance to vote — or even build a new courthouse — until 2029.
That means the Washington County Courthouse will stay on historic Main Street, atop Courthouse Hill, for at least another decade, when voters get a chance to take on this matter again.
So it goes with referendums of this nature, which have a 10-year moratorium in Virginia if they fail at the ballot box.
And if it does pass?
Well, that means you just authorized the Washington County Board of Supervisors to spend $30 million to buy the old Kmart, 300 Towne Centre Drive, and convert it into something that some county officials call “adaptive reuse.”
But can this old department store really be used as a courthouse?
That’s the question now in front of Jason Boswell, the zoning administrator for Abingdon.
In response to a letter from County Administrator Jason Berry, Boswell says he’ll be going “back and forth for quite some time” with the town’s legal counsel, Cameron Bell, as he seeks to interpret whether the definition of “public office” could also include “courthouse.”
Boswell said he may “possibly” not make his decision until after the Nov. 5 election, which is still within the 90 days allowed by state statute to respond to the inquiry by Berry.
“Jason has to review the information the county has submitted to the town,” said Town Manager Jimmy Morani.
“And one of the things he’ll have to consider is that we do have ‘courthouse’ identified currently in one of our zoning districts, and that is the Old and Historic District. It does list ‘courthouse’ as a permitted use. Currently, right now, there is no other zoning district where a ‘courthouse’ is listed as a permitted use.”
And that includes the site of the Kmart, situated at the side of a strip shopping center.
In recent weeks, Abingdon Mayor Wayne Craig has been critical of county leaders trying to solve space problems at the 150-year-old Washington County Courthouse by proposing the move to the Kmart, just off I-81’s Exit 17, without better informing town leaders, he said.
And he’s not alone.
Town Councilman Al Bradley has proposed a motion, though it did not pass on Aug. 5, to leave the courthouse where it stands on Courthouse Hill.
“Everybody that’s talked to me and all of the people, from what I hear from other council members, they’re being told the same thing — that our citizens want the courthouse to remain where it is,” Craig said.
“I hope, at some point down the line,” Craig added, “the county and town can get together and provide our county with a courthouse facility that we can all be proud of.”