Albemarle County is now considering building a new courts complex where there’s a surplus of parking, such as the sprawling vacant asphalt at Albemarle Square on Rt. 29.
The Gazette must once again make an argument on culture, so often necessary in addressing development issues—meaning our goal in Crozet is not to grow for growth’s sake, but to sustain tight small town culture in the face of it—in the case of the justice system.
Albemarle’s legal services infrastructure have grown up around Court Square for obvious reasons. That gives that essential service of government a large root ball of culture in its present location. When entertaining the options to move the courts, county supervisors should weigh heavily the cost of disturbing those roots, fragile and vast and irreplaceable as they are.
The supervisors will be tempted to quantify the move-or-double-down options with cost projections, which, as any one who has done any building will know, are likely to be just educated guesses that underestimate the final total. The only question will be how far off they end up being. So let’s accept that whatever option we choose will cost us more than we would like. The decisive factor is which does what’s good for promoting justice.
The relationships that create a healthy legal culture are harder to count up and value. But they are what make the culture for good or ill. Fracturing those, which like all relationships rely to some degree on propinquity, will have painful costs to the mission of the system.
The mission of the courts is justice, not economic development. The Gazette has little confidence in the ability of local government to create prosperity. If it could, every community in America would be rich. Business is what creates wealth and it goes where it sees real opportunity, according to its own lights, not simply a welcome-to-town sign or even community officials who are willing to cut subsidy deals to lure prospective businesses. The prosperity goal should be separated from the justice goal, and certainly not knotted up in public/private development deals. We learned how susceptible those are to corruption under the recent McDonnell administration.
Our wisest choice is to invest where we are already invested, in the court square environs, and add to what history and the legal culture have built up and entrusted to us. Honor that. In the end, we tend to forget what something cost us—this is not a license to spend wastefully—but whether the spending achieved the outcome we sought.
When U.Va. faced a choice over whether to build needed hospital rooms next to the old University hospital or build new health complex at the deserted old Blue Ridge Hospital, which could claim better Interstate access for cars, the university decided to build the new next to old. That choice best preserved the academic mission of teaching medicine. Imagine what would be happening on West Main Street today if the complex had been moved away from the University.
We should be faithful to the justice mission and trust that being true to it will have the added reward of prosperity.