Indiana Economic Digest | Indiana
Advanced Search

• Most Recent

home : most recent : quality of life December 14, 2018

11/25/2018 12:19:00 PM
Debate over location of new Vigo County jail continues to rage

Carolyn Muyskens, Chronicle-Tribune

The comprehensive zoning ordinance for Terre Haute states it exists in order to, among other things, “encourage the most appropriate use of land.”

Whether a new county jail is the “most appropriate use” of a piece of a county-owned parcel of 64 acres at 2403 Prairieton Road continues to be a debate.

The City Council is being asked to rezone it to accommodate a new $57.5 million, 494-bed Vigo County Jail. The site of a former paper plant, the property would be re-classified from heavy industrial to a penitentiary classification.

Advocates for continued recreational development of the Wabash riverfront disagree with county commissioners that a jail can be the “most appropriate use” of the site and say a jail won’t co-exist well with other development.

The jail complex would occupy about 20 acres of the site, and the rest of the property would be “put towards a community use,” county commissioners say in their rezoning petition.

“The desire is to construct a single level facility to reduce the staff-intensive design that Vigo County deals with currently in the jail,” says the petition, signed by Commissioner Brad Anderson. “This requires building out rather than up and requires a bigger parcel.”

County officials looked at several potential locations and considered new construction at the existing site, as well as expansion of the current jail, which was built in 1982 and expanded in 2001.

“It would be cost prohibitive” to expand the current jail because the existing portion would need to meet federal standards for disability access,” Anderson said. The existing city/county government complex also lacks sufficient space for a modern pod-style jail, which requires fewer staff than does a multi-story facility, resulting in lower long-term operating costs, he said.

“Elevators are one the worst things and one of the most unsafe things you can do [while] transporting prisoners … [and] one of the most expensive things to maintain,” Anderson said.

Construction of a new jail at the current location would also require construction of a parking garage at a cost of $6 million to $8 million,” he said. Parking for city and county employees during a two-year construction project would also be challenging, he added.

The recreational vision

Leaders of Wabash River Development and Beautification, commonly called Riverscape, and others oppose the Prairieton Road site.

Riverfront officers want to see the property, where portions of a former International Paper plant remain, developed for recreational use along with much of the former industrial area on the city’s south side. They point to success in developing property north of downtown for Indiana State University athletics and Riverfront Lofts apartments, as well as property west of the river at Wabashiki Fish and Wildlife Area and Bicentennial Park at Dresser.

Charlie Williams, Riverscape president, said construction of a jail on the International Paper site would squander a “once in a century” opportunity for the largest single available tract in the city on the east bank of the Wabash.

“We’ve got a lot of acreage that can be shined as the gem it can be, or we can put a jail and other trash there as we’ve done for over a century,” Williams said. “That’s not Riverscape’s vision. That’s not why we’ve been at the table for 12 years.”

Commissioners maintain a jail will not preclude other development. They point to proposed indoor and outdoor stages and a 5,000-seat amphitheater at the site as envisioned by Lukebo Inc., whose principals include Tim Drake, part owner of Show-Me’s and a former employee of what is now Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center in Noblesville.

Fred Nation, Riverscape vice president, said, “It’s not the fact so much whether people want to locate by a jail or not. You can debate that. But it takes up real estate that could easily be down by the sewage disposal site … it could be several other places that they don’t pursue.” Riverscape’s vision for land west of Prairieton Road from Hulman Street to south of Interstate 70 includes a baseball stadium for the Terre Haute Rex, indoor facilities for soccer, basketball, winter baseball practice and tennis courts, a community pool and a facility similar to Splash Island in Plainfield.

Voorhees Park, across from the proposed jail site,boasts the Vigo County School Corp. Aquatic Center and the first phase of a skate park, with two more phases planned, Nation noted.

“We could end up with a wonderful [recreational] complex that serves our community for the next 50 to 100 years,” Nation said. Land within the Wabash “oxbow” south of Interstate 70 is state-owned as part of Wabashiki, Nation noted.

During a meeting last week where commissioners accepted preliminary jail plans, Judy Anderson, president of the three-member Board of Commissioners, said Riverscape leaders asked that the jail be built on the north side of the property.

Williams later objected to that statement, saying the group was asked but maintained its opposition to a jailanywhere on the site. County officials are quick to point out that neither the jail site nor any of the International Paper tract has direct river access. The south end of an adjoining 33-acre tract does border the river south of the oxbow. Joe Card, president of CAVU Ops, long-time owner of the former Western Tar plant and still owner of the property where that operation stood, said, “Our hope for that is to support Fred Nation and Charlie Williams as to their Riverscape agenda.”

But the remainder of the property that lies closer to the International Paper site boasts a rail spur, Card noted.

“Our hope is that there might be someone interested in utilization of the property who can use the rail traffic,” he said. Owners of the Southwest Auto Co. salvage yard, which occupies 20 acres to the north of the proposed jail site, did not respond to a request for comment on the availability of that property.

County officials have said community uses on the portion of the International Paper site not needed for the jail could include such things as a park, splash pads and space for a farmer’s market.

However, Judy Anderson said the county does not have the funds to develop a park at the site because of ongoing development of Ruble Park in the southern part of the county and future development of Bicentennial Park.

Council president, mayor weigh in

“Ideally, I would like to see something else on that property,” said Council President Curtis DeBaun IV.

“I think that land could be used for much better purposes,” DeBaun said. “I am also concerned that is too far south of the courthouse. Having said that, I am still interested in hearing the opinions of those who are for having it there and those who are not.”Mayor Duke Bennett, whose role will be to either sign the rezoning ordinance or veto it if the council passes it, said, “My preference has always been for it [the jail] to be in the city and be as centrally located as possible.

“It is important for our police officers to be able to efficiently access the jail to process individuals who have been arrested and then be back on the street as quickly as possible to serve the community. It is clearly in the best interests of the citizens and the police department that we support a location within the city limits.”

Will court have final say?

The City Council will consider the commissioners’ rezoning request at its Dec. 6 meeting. Prior to that, the Vigo County Area Plan Commission will weigh in with an advisory vote Dec. 5.

Judy Anderson has said commissioners have a backup plan in the event the request is denied, but she declined to elaborate.

Brad Anderson noted the continued availability of property at the Vigo County Industrial Park. Following passage of a local income tax increase to fund a jail and other public safety needs, a federal judge has turned up the heat on county officials to address longstanding overcrowding and unconstitutional conditions at the current jail.

A legal opinion commissioners requested to guide them in whether to seek rezoning suggests the judge may have the final say. “If the federal court exercises supplemental jurisdiction, the balancing of interests appears to weigh in favor of overturning of an adverse zoning decision and approval of the construction of the Security Annex on the property,” concludes the opinion from the Indianapolis law firm Kroger Gardis & Regas.

Related Stories:
• County commissioners accept early plans accepted for new Vigo County jail
• Construction of new Vigo County jail could start in July 2019
• More drug treatment could cost less than a new jail, mental health worker suggests
• Jackson County inmate count daily average falls below jail capacity

Copyright #YYYY# Chronicle-Tribune

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

Software © 1998-2018 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved