The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Fredericksburg shelves fourth courtroom
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
The Fredericksburg courthouse project will move forward with 14-foot ceilings, but without a fourth courtroom.
Council members voted Tuesday night to advance the project, a formality required because design plans are 35 percent done and approval was needed to develop more detailed plans.
Council member Kerry Devine said the city has been talking about and studying the courthouse project for years and it’s time to move forward.
Council member Matt Kelly, an outspoken critic of many aspects of the courthouse project, said he thinks a new courthouse should be built. But, he said, not this one. He objects to the design, which he called a big box inappropriate for its space and setting. “This has never been about Fredericksburg” and what’s good for downtown, Kelly said. “It’s been about what’s good for the judges.”
The motion to approve the 35 percent design plan passed 4-3.
The vote–and support for 14-foot ceilings, rather than lower ones–came after extensive discussion in the council’s work session before the public meeting, at which representatives of architectural team First Choice said lowering the building’s ceilings–as some council members have suggested–could end up increasing the costs of the project.
Lowering each floor would require design changes to the outside of the building, which was designed based on architectural proportions that are thousands of years old.
Jay Moore, Moseley Architects’ design project manager for the courthouse project, said most people can’t define why those proportions make a building look good, but they can tell when it’s off. “They just look right. Think of them as proper grammar.” Without such proportions, “it looks wrong, it looks funny and it looks ugly, even though we don’t know why.” To redo the proportions to shrink the building, Moore said, the architects would have to change the portico, the cupola and other design items.
While he didn’t say how much it would cost to do such a redesign, construction manager Bill Downey said the estimated cost savings of shrinking the building–about $130,000 to $140,000–”will not offset the proposed redesign fees involved.”
Devine said she thinks it’s “short-sighted” to lower the ceilings of courtrooms to save money.
Council member Fred Howe said he’s concerned that the city hasn’t committed funding–such as raising taxes–to pay for the $35.4 million courthouse project.
Kelly questioned the costs the city would incur for design changes and the timeline from the design firm for the city’s approval.
He said he disapproves of the way the project is being done, dislikes the design and thinks it’s too large a building for the space. But when he suggested changes, he said, the architects have said it either can’t be done or would be expensive. He said the Aug. 1 deadline for the 35 percent design approval was arbitrary, and objected to the fact that the vote to approve the 35 percent design plan was not on council’s public agenda for the night’s meeting.
Kelly said in the work session that he would abstain from voting at all.
“I know this project is going to move forward,” Kelly said. “I’m not going to vote for this thing, I’m not going to be there at the groundbreaking or anything, I don’t want to have anything to do with this building.”
Council also voted not to build out a fourth courtroom in the building, but instead leave it a shell until it’s needed. Council members voiced concerns that it might cost more in the future to build the courtroom–not doing so will save $248,000 now, money some council members want to put toward renovating the Renwick building.
Council also decided to postpone until its next meeting a vote on raising the towing fees in the city.
The council has proposed to raise private towing rates from $65 to $125. The ordinance would also require clear signage in private lots that violators will be towed, and include information on which company towed the vehicle.
Council member Brad Ellis moved to table the issue until a meeting two weeks from now because he wants an assessment of the signage in private lots in Fredericksburg and whether those property owners comply with the law now.
Council members agreed to assess the lots that were the top 10 towing spots over the past year.
Kelly said he believes a number of private lots do not have the appropriate warnings for parkers, especially Eagle Village.
He also said he thinks the city needs to make it easier for visitors to park when visiting downtown.
“I do have an issue with what we’re trying to do to get people to come here to our downtown,” Kelly said. “They’re coming to our restaurants, they’re coming to our events, they can’t find a place to park.”
Before the fee increase proposal was postponed, Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said she would abstain on it. She received an $1,800 campaign contribution from a towing company in Fredericksburg, and while there is no legal prohibition on a council member voting on issues benefiting someone who contributed to the campaign, Greenlaw said she wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028