Charlottesville City Council has voted to purchase a 39-spot surface parking lot for $1.6 million. The 0.4 acre property is located at 921 East Jefferson Street and includes 39 parking spots, which will each cost $42,000. Councilors voted 4-1 Tuesday to purchase the lot, with Michael Payne dissenting.
City staff advised the purchase, voicing concern that the city is going to face parking capacity challenges in the downtown area, and that the property would provide parking within a five-minute walk from City Hall, the Ting Pavilion and the Downtown Mall.
City Director of Economic Development Chris Engel also said the purchase could help fulfill a parking agreement with Albemarle County as part of a joint court complex project. The agreement has a number of provisions and specifically requires the city to provide the county with 90 parking spaces.
In June 2021, City Council voted against building an additional $11.3 million parking deck on 7th Street to fulfill the courts agreement, deciding to look at other options including designating 90 spots in the existing downtown garages. The proposed parking deck would’ve required the demolition of two local businesses – a Lucky 7 convenience store and Guadalajara Mexican restaurant.
Engel confirmed the Market Street Garage was only at 60% occupancy at peak times in May. But he said the city has reached capacity for monthly pass parkers in that garage, and his concern is if the city adds the designated spots in the courts agreement but doesn’t add additional sources of parking, “it will push occupancy well above 85%.”
“You’d be jeopardizing the health of the business community,” Engel said.
Engel said he cannot guarantee that the city wouldn’t demolish those businesses in the future to build additional parking. However, he said the purchase of the lot would alleviate the need to do so at least in the short term.
According to the proposal, there is no impact to the General Fund budget. The Capital Improvement Fund account designated for the 7th Street parking deck will be reduced by $1.6 million as a result of the purchase.
Payne voiced his opposition to the purchase, saying while he understands why this purchase could make sense in fulfilling the courts agreement and preventing the city from spending millions on building a new garage, he’s concerned for what will happen down the line.
“If we’re going to purchase this and at some point down the road still demolish Lucky 7 and Guadalajara, or build a new parking deck there, then it doesn’t make sense to me,” Payne said. “If we have the creativity to spend $1.6 million to acquire land for [parking], I hope we will expand that creativity to acquire land for housing and public spaces.”
Other councilors supported the decision because it could potentially prevent more costly garage construction or renovation, and would help fulfill the courts agreement.
“We don’t have to spend millions to convert it … it’s basically ready to go,” said Mayor Lloyd Snook.
The resolution did not require a public hearing, however, some members of the public spoke against the purchase of the lot earlier in the meeting.
“Excuse me, but where are your priorities at?” said city resident Nancy Carpenter. She said the money being used to purchase the lot could be put towards other needs, including an emergency homeless shelter.
Carpenter said the $42,000 the city will put toward one parking spot in this purchase could be put toward housing a person for a year.
City resident Matthew Gillikin voiced skepticism that the additional parking was necessary, saying the existing Water Street and Market Street garages are often not full.
“The narrative within the report you received suggests there are significant parking constraints downtown, which is not accurate,” Gillikin said. “There are a multitude of ways the city could spend $1.6 million better.”