The City of Charlottesville recently sent a message to the Charlottesville Parking Center threatening the use eminent domain to take over the Water Street Garage if parking rates continue to rise.
The message was sent to the parking center after a closed door meeting for the Council last week.
Law Prof. Julia Mahoney said eminent domain is a power which entitles the government to seize property under certain conditions.
“Under the powers of eminent domain, governments are empowered to take property for public uses even if the owner of the property does not want to sell. The United States Constitution requires that owners be paid ‘just compensation’, which generally means fair market value, when the government takes their property,” Mahoney said in an email.
Eminent domain could generate controversy, Mahoney added.
Charlottesville City Council member Bob Fenwick said the Council is taking action to protect an important city asset, namely, parking.
“Eminent domain is just one of several options the City has,” Fenwick said. “It seemed prudent to not just counter-sue to protect City assets, but to explore further options.”
The City is determined to protect community economic interests on the Downtown Mall, which might be hurt by rising parking rates, Fenwick said.
“This is a very considered move that the Council is contemplating. I certainly don’t take this lightly.” Fenwick said. “The city’s main interest is to make the Downtown Mall economically viable, not just for shoppers but for businesses down there.”
Dave Norris, General Manager of the Charlottesville Parking Center, said the City’s consideration of eminent domain is an abuse of power.
“Eminent domain is to be used, only as a last resort, when a property owner refuses to fix up a blighted property, or refuses to make way for a major public infrastructure project (road, school, railway line, sewer line, etc.) It was not meant to resolve pricing disputes,” Norris said in an email.
The dispute between the City and the parking center has been ongoing for about nine months, Fenwick said.
In March, the parking center filed a lawsuit against the City claiming that City officials had conspired to keep the price of parking below market-rate.
“The City’s proposed pooled parking unit rates have no economic basis [and] are consistently below the reasonable rates that should be established based on the existing market for downtown Charlottesville,” reads the lawsuit.
The City currently controls 629 spots within the garage, while the parking center controls 344, accounting for 973 total spots.
According to the lawsuit, the City intended to set the parking rate at $125 a month for public spots, $140 for reserved spots, and $2 an hour for temporary spots.
However, the parking center aimed to increase the monthly rates to $145 and $180 for public and reserved spots, respectively. The hourly rate for transient spots would also be raised to $2.50.
Norris said the parking center proposed higher parking rates for viable business reasons.
“Water Street Parking Garage needs a few million dollars in improvements, [such as] building repairs, new technology and other upgrades, and the higher rates would help cover the cost of those improvements.” Norris said.
Fenwick said he believes higher parking rates will become a real financial burden for many individuals working in the downtown area.
In April, the parking center urged the City to sell their spots, suggesting a solution to the dispute. The City rejected, saying it would not sell its stake in the garage.
On June 7, according to a press release, the parking center requested that a judge appoint a third party to temporarily manage the garage until legal issues were resolved.
The dispute remains unresolved as of now.
“We continue to be open to a resolution that accomplishes the goal of maintaining (if not expanding) the supply of affordable parking for Downtown Charlottesville,” Norris said.
“The City will consider any action that will protect the community’s interests,” Fenwick added.