The vacant J.C. Penney department store in Fashion Square mall north of Charlottesville will become office and storage space for Albemarle County’s police and fire departments.
The county planning commission unanimously voted to approve the proposal at a meeting on Monday evening. Home Depot purchased most of Fashion Square in September, except for J.C. Penney and the Belk women’s store.
“There’ll be no [publicly] accessible services provided at the site at this point in time,” development process manager David Bernish told the planning commission.
Instead, the “back of house” section of the building, separate from the retail space, will provide office space, supply storage and fleet maintenance for fire rescue services, Bernish said. For the police department, it will house offices for the traffic unit, special operations, the K-9 unit, animal protection, mental health support and motorcycle storage.
Formerly the anchor of Fashion Square, J.C. Penney had sat vacant for more than two years. It’s not clear how soon police and fire rescue could move in, but county staff said space for both groups has been a long-standing issue.
“They really needed this for a while,” said Lance Stewart, director of the county’s Department of Facilities and Environmental Services. “Fire rescue has also outgrown their offices on the second floor of the county office building.”
Fashion Square’s central location will be a boon to both public safety departments, according to county staff.
“It’s easy to access compared to most locations” for police and fire rescue employees, Stewart said.
The county has a 10-year lease at the old department store with an option to renew, but Stewart said the county would be looking for a more permanent place for the police department and fire rescue in the future.
“But it’s a bit of a multibillion-dollar investment to do that, and we have acute needs that we felt we needed to address sooner rather than later,” Stewart said.