The state’s plans to build a new Inyo County courthouse in Bishop came to a momentary standstill last week when the city declined to accept the court’s offer to buy the state Administrative Office of the Courts’ first-choice building site.
At a March 20 meeting, City Council took public opinion into account and decided against selling a .85-acre portion of the city parking lot located at the northeast corner of North Fowler and Church streets, City Administrator Keith Caldwell said. Public opinion collected over a nearly one-month period, which included public hearings on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 and continued until March 20, was overwhelmingly against the sale.
Council was swayed by three main concerns, voiced primarily by downtown merchants and Bishop Union High School and UMC representatives, Caldwell said. Those concerns focused on: detrimental impact on park ing in the area; potential impact on the development of the ongoing Warren Street Improvement Project; and the limited amount of city-owned real estate, he explained, adding that available city property includes only two-plus acres on the City Hall campus and a few acres at each of the following sites: the Water Treatment Plant, the City Park and the Sunland city well.
The consensus of citizen input in favor of the sale, “barring the concerns shared,” Caldwell said, is that “the center of town is an ideal location for a courthouse;” the property sale would be revenue for the city; and courthouse visitors, especially from out of town, would shop, dine and otherwise spend money in the Bishop business community.
In line with the “ideal location” notion, Council offered an “alternative consideration” on March 20, Caldwell said. “The old grammar school building” site at 301 W. Line St., where the city’s courtroom and chambers are currently located, could be torn down and a new county courthouse facility could be built there. “However the court has not yet responded to that offer.”
At AOC’s Feb. 24 presentation, Real Estate and Asset Management Services Senior Real Estate Analyst Joanne Williamson and Design and Construction Services Project Manager Gary Swanson, unveiled initial plans for a 21,015-square-foot, two-story courthouse that included one courtroom, one multi-purpose room and two chambers.
Of the state’s next move, AOC Communication Specialist II Keby Boyer said, “With the help of the Project Advisory Group (which includes Bishop community members), the state identified other properties in Bishop as possible alternatives for the site of the new Inyo County Courthouse, in case the preferred property on Church Street became unavailable. At this point, the state will move forward with pursuing other sites for the new courthouse project.”
Perhaps the court will next focus on its secondary location, a MacIver Street site. Realtor Nancy Lothorp of Coldwell Banker LeeAnn Rasmuson & Associates in Bishop will represent the court if and when AOC and Bishop strike a land purchase agreement.
In the meantime, “we support the court’s ongoing efforts to find a location for a new courthouse,” Caldwell said. “We have appreciated working with the court. I’ve also appreciated and learned from the their process and their positive attitude during our negotiations.”