Published 11:29 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016
On Jan. 12, the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors approved a report prepared by its courthouse committee concerning the proposed new courthouse. The report contains errors and misleading statements. I will address a few of those here.
The report suggests that the committee has worked all along with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR). This is not the case. Despite a memorandum of agreement between the county and DHR, signed March 5, 2012, agreeing to DHR’s continued involvement, no plans for the proposed three-story addition to the clerk’s office were sent to Julie Langan, director of DHR, until Dec. 14, 2015.
Langan responded on Dec. 22, that: “DHR strongly recommends that the new construction be located further east toward the slope of the hill so that its impact on the integrity of the historic setting is minimized.”
Further, it should be “completely independent from the clerk’s office, without a physical connection.”
Despite assertions by the committee, there is no documentation to support that the judges require the clerk’s office have a secure entrance by connecting to the new building. One judge wrote: “The final authority in deciding where the courthouse is placed rests with the board of supervisors.”
The report further states that the committee had consulted “other well-respected individuals in the preservation community…[who] felt that the proposed location and design…would not harm the character of the historic courthouse square, nor the character of the town itself.”
When pressed for the names of these individuals in Freedom of Information Act requests, the county provided a single e-mail claiming that “the experts that were contacted for an opinion chose to remain anonymous….”
The e-mail, dated Oct. 30, from the county’s architect, Andrew Moore, to the committee, concerned a meeting between the architect and Carl Lounsbury of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The email implied that Lounsbury had approved the current plans. Lounsbury did not see this e-mail until Jan.14.
In a letter to Haywood Hamlett, who serves as the board of supervisors chairman, dated Jan. 25, Lounsbury clarified his position, stating that while he had reviewed working designs with the architect, he had “far from” offered approval for any of them.
He then reiterated that he strongly endorses DHR’s position that the new building should be a “freestanding courthouse…located toward the slope of the hill” so as to “mitigate its impact on the national treasure that is Charlotte Court House.”
Despite being told that the current plans are unacceptable by the recognized authority on historical issues for Virginia — the Department of Historic Resources — and other acknowledged experts who have not hesitated to be publicly identified, the board has approved these plans, deeming themselves to be more knowledgeable and better judges of what should happen to our nationally significant courthouse square.
They dismiss the expert advice as mere “differences of opinion.”
Their arrogance and distortion of the facts will result in a building that will destroy the character of the square forever.
Kathy Liston is a Brookneal resident and guest columnist for The Charlotte Gazette. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.