The Transylvania Times -

Reaction Given To Court Decision

 

November 20, 2017



Editor’s Note: Last week, Transylvania County commissioners unanimously voted to build a new courthouse — currently estimated to cost $31.1 million — beside the law enforcement facility on Morris Road in Brevard.

It’s anticipated it will take at least three years before the new courthouse is open for business.

The Transylvania Times contacted several people connected to downtown to get their feedback on the decision.

Attorney Mack McKeller has been practicing in downtown Brevard since 1995. His office is located on East Main Street.

“I believe it is an unnecessary project, which is a bit wasteful of taxpayer money,” he said. “The proposed new courthouse will contain more courtroom area than we need. But, most importantly, a move of the courthouse out of town will change the character of downtown Brevard from a working environment to a shopping mall. And when the character of downtown Brevard changes, so will the very thing that attracts people to visit us. I am extremely disappointed with this decision.”

Another downtown attorney, Brian Stretcher, who has been practicing law in Brevard since 2014, was disappointed by the decision, as well.

Stretcher gave a lengthy response, which may be seen in its entirety on the editorial pages.

Among his concerns are that there will long stretches of time between when court is in session and that the new courthouse will “operate at 50 percent capacity into the foreseeable future.”

He also calls it a “myth” that a parking deck is needed if court operations remained downtown, believing there are ample spaces available.

Court officials and law enforcement who work in the courthouse have repeatedly spotlighted safety issues as a major reason that the current building no longer is adequate.

“There is no doubt that it would be much more convenient for the Sheriff’s Office to simply walk inmates to court rather than driving them there,” Stretcher said. “I would ask, however, for the commissioners to explain just what sort of security risk there is in transporting prisoners from the jail to the current courthouse compared to walking them through some sort of enclosed tunnel. Prisoners are shackled, both hands and feet.

“They are escorted by one or more deputies, arriving no more than 15 feet from the existing courthouse entrance. If the concern is their entry through the one and only public entrance, it should come as no surprise to anyone that our existing courthouse has several other entrances that could be modified to allow secured entry (and that without considering any expansion). The people to worry about are not the inmates, but the families of inmates and their victims. These are the people likely to get into squabbles and present security problems, and those will be just as likely to occur in the parking lot at the new courthouse as at the existing one.”

Mike Young, owner of The Falls Landing restaurant on East Main Street, was “surprised” by the decision.

His business has been a downtown mainstay since 1993.

“I’m not really happy about it,” he said. “I think it is going to hurt the downtown. One of my concerns is that there may be some zoning changes down in that area (Morris Road) and some office buildings may go up there, and we may get some of the lawyers leaving the downtown district.

“The local attorneys do dine downtown. People come in to see them downtown, so they are a draw for the downtown commercial district.”

Young said he’s heard similar concerns from other restaurant owners in downtown and that the vast majority of his customers wanted the courthouse to remain downtown.

“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

Dean St. Marie, president of the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce, said the “courthouse is located at a key spot in Brevard’s vibrant downtown.”

“The chamber looks forward to working with the county and others to ensure that the building and property transition into something that contributes to our local economy in a meaningful way and provides a unique community benefit.”

Heath Seymour, the Heart of Brevard’s executive director, said that in 2015 a survey was taken of its membership and others about the courthouse.

The results showed around 75 percent preferred that the court remain downtown, but not necessarily in the current building.

“We studied this subject and determined that there is a more positive economic impact for the county if this sort of facility is in the same general area as the current facility,” he said. “There are many details to this short conclusion, but the short answer is that we preferred that the facility remain downtown, and most agreed with this position.

“Though we would love to see the new building located in a place where taxpayers could see it, we are still happy to have the existing building for everyone to see. We are happy to hear that we have been invited to take seats at the table to decide on the new direction for the existing courthouse.”

Seymour said there are many options for the current courthouse.

The county, if it continues to own the building, will need to financially maintain it for any next use, he said.

“There are options where the historic integrity of the building is kept up, but instead of taxpayers paying to maintain the existing courthouse, a private enterprise could own the facility, with various historic and usage restrictions placed on the building,” he said. “This way the county receives tax revenue and, in the process, the building is maintained, and the taxpayers aren’t paying to make sure it is kept up.

“Both options have worked in other towns, and within both options there are all sorts of public and/or private models that could work for the current courthouse property. The county has suggested that it is important that a substantial investment be made in this Nationally Registered historic property, and that the building be properly maintained throughout the next century, and that is our hope as well.”

Downtown business owner Dee Dee Perkins said she was “concerned and disappointed” by the commissioners’ decision.

“I’ve been an advocate for decades that public buildings are important both socially and economically to the downtown,” she said. “Municipal buildings, courthouses, libraries and post offices are essential components of healthy downtowns. The movement out of downtown by public facilities contributes to a decline in retail activity as local people invest their energy and spending elsewhere.

“These facilities draw many people on a typical day. The courthouse, and our other public facilities, collectively, are part of the fabric of a downtown’s synergy, walkability and vitality. Local citizens come to downtown to carry out their business. They park, then walk to the post office, do their banking, grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant or coffee shop, pick up essentials at the hardware store. They may stop by the register of deeds office, then the library, and pick up a birthday gift at one of the shops in town.

“Most attorneys’ offices are located in the downtown district because of close proximity to the courthouse and the convenience for them and for their clients to conduct their business. They are another ingredient that brings people to our streets and add commerce. The essence of a small town, the sense of community, is all these conveniences and diversity of services being available within walking distance of each other, and greeting and seeing your neighbors along the way.

“Combined with the economic impact of losing the courthouse from downtown, is the combined concern about the future use of the historic courthouse building. The commissioners indicated that they would have a comprehensive plan for the life of the courthouse, if court activities were moved. It seems that is yet to be determined, which is very concerning. And while there are lots ideas and possibilities, there has not been a formalized plan developed.”

Brevard Mayor Jimmy Harris said the decision would have “lasting results on the community.”

“Some obviously believe positively about the decision and others, like myself, believe that it will have a negative effect,” he said. “I spoke publicly at a commissioners meeting approximately two years ago in opposition to this decision, and my position has not changed. I believe that placing courthouse functions in an area that is not walkable or in a convenient location may be a strain on the many residents who use the courthouse. Attorneys I have spoken with say they frequent the courthouse almost daily and not having it near their current offices will be a hardship for them and their clients.

“Brevard has few spaces available for law offices in that area. One commissioner shared with me that they were under a lot of pressure to make changes to the current facility and moving its function to a newer building was the best option. I know that safety is a paramount concern, which it should be, for those who work in the building and for the residents who use it.

“Can the building be made more secure and functional? I don’t know or would I pretend to have a qualified answer, but elected officials have access to professional resources whose job it is to get those questions answered.

“Despite disagreeing with the commissioners vote to build a new courthouse, the decision has been made and all county residents will need to accept that the courthouse and its function will move to Morris Road.”

As previously said and reported, local law enforcement and court officials have steadfastly backed having a new courthouse.

Transylvania County Clerk of Court Kristi Brown said she was “appreciative of the hard decision that the commissioners had to make and of the fact that they sought out and studied all options and chose the most efficient and, in the long run, the least costly for the county.”

“The third-floor option will allow for growth and expansion, which is a very wise decision,” she said. “As a lifelong native of Transylvania County I value the historical aspect of the courthouse. However, I value the safety and wellbeing of my work family and the citizens of the county more. This old building is an icon of our small town, and I for one am very excited to watch some of the options unfold for such an amazing historical building to become a museum or what best fits our community.

“I thank the commissioners for looking to the future and doing what is best for our citizens and community.”

Safety issues at the courthouse have also been a concern of Sheriff David Mahoney.

“The county commissioners have voted to move forward with the project, I look forward to working with them and the clerk of superior court in addressing safety concerns for visitors to our county’s courthouse,” he said.

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2017