Committee key to fate of offices move

Posted: July 23, 2013

The Winchester Star

The county has an offer to move out of its downtown location, pictured at 107 North Kent St., for an undisclosed location. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The proposal by a private company to provide land and financing for a new Frederick County government office building will go before the locality’s Public Works Committee at a special meeting Aug. 6.

The panel will evaluate the proposal and, if it is determined to be a worthwhile offer, it will stay in the committee until the county and developer come to a comprehensive agreement, according to County Administrator John R. Riley Jr.

Such an agreement would include the framework the county and developer would use to move forward with the financing and construction process, Riley said Friday morning.

“It’s probably going to take a while to get to that point,” he said.

“I don’t know how long at this point. Hopefully when we have the first [Public Works] Committee meeting and define the process for the applicant we’ll have a better idea of what it will take to get through [the process].”

The county government received an unsolicited proposal in March from Frederick County Center LLC under the state’s Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002 (PPEA) to provide financing for the design and construction of a building.

The county’s current facility — at 107 N. Kent St. in Winchester — contains 100,000 square feet of space, while the company is proposing a 150,000-square-foot building.

According to the proposal, Frederick County Center LLC would provide land in the county for the project, and would purchase the existing building.

The deadline for private entities to submit competing proposals was June 25, and no others were received.

Frederick’s Board of Supervisors voted July 10 to send the proposal to the Public Works Committee.

The committee will have to evaluate the proposal in closed session because Frederick County Center LLC has not allowed the proprietary parts of the document to be released publicly.

If the county and the LLC reach a comprehensive agreement, a public hearing would have to be held before the Board of Supervisors votes on whether to move forward with the project. At that time, the details of the proposal would have to be disclosed, according to Riley.

Alan Gernhardt, staff attorney for the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, said Monday that the PPEA provides exemptions that allow involved parties to withhold details — including trade secrets or information that would affect the bargaining position of either entity — until a comprehensive agreement is reached.

If the Public Works Committee completes its evaluation and determines the proposal would not benefit the county, that would probably be the end of the matter, Riley said.

The committee is comprised of six members — three supervisors and three citizens. They are Chairman Gene Fisher, supervisors Gary Lofton and Robert Wells and citizens Whit Wagner, David Ganse and Jim Wilson.

In 1994, the county came close to moving its offices out of Winchester but struck an agreement with the city that kept them downtown and allowed for the expanded 100,000-square-foot facility on North Kent. The terms of that agreement expired Jan. 1, 2006.

Frederick County still owes $1.3 million on its current administration building. It is scheduled to make a $705,000 payment in December and pay off the remaining balance in December 2014, according to information previously provided by Frederick County Finance Director Cheryl Shiffler.

More than 200 county employees work out of the current facility. If the offices are moved into the county, it would be the first time in Frederick’s history that its main government offices have not been in downtown Winchester.

Winchester officials fought to keep Frederick’s offices downtown in the 1990s because they didn’t want to lose the vitality their presence brings to the city’s core.

The four companies listed under Frederick County Center LLC in Volume I — which includes the proposal’s non-proprietary information — are Winchester-based Howard Shockey & Sons Inc., cited as the project’s design-build firm; Reston-based architecture firm the Polleo Group; Winchester-based legal consultants Lawson & Silek PLLC; and the Richmond office of international financial company Raymond James & Associates.

The Frederick County government approached the school division to see if the School Board would like to partner with them on a joint office complex — if the county accepts the PPEA proposal — but the Planning Commission voted 9-3 Wednesday to recommend denial of an amendment to the 2013-2014 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that would add a new “County/School Board Administration building” to the document.

The amendment states that the building would “be located generally in the county’s Urban Development Area,” which is primarily located east of Interstate 81 and Winchester.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the amendment Aug. 14. While the Planning Commission recommended its denial, the board can still approve it.

Riley said that the Planning Commission not being able to see the LLC’s proposal in its entirety may have played a part in its recommendation for denial.

“I am going to attempt to communicate with the Planning Commission to advise them on the purpose and function of the CIP amendment, which is an amendment to the comprehensive plan,” he said. “There was not a lot of specificity because of the confidentiality [involved with the proposal].”

Planning Commissioner Gary Oates, who voted for the denial, said after the commission’s meeting that he opposed the amendment “because there isn’t anything in our current Comprehensive Plan that supported the CIP request.

“If we would have had an amendment to the [Comprehensive Plan] to include an administrative building, then it would have been a perfectly reasonable [request],” he added.

The county needs to amend its CIP — which is a component of the county’s Comprehensive Plan — before it can move forward on the project, according to Riley.

“I believe the PPEA refers to that as one step that needs to be completed [for the process to move forward],” he said.

— Contact Matt Armstrong at marmstrong@winchesterstar.com