Opposition to a proposed new jail site near Smithfield is growing. A total of 14 people spoke in opposition of the Public Safety Complex during Tuesday night’s Smithfield Town Council meeting.
In November, county commissioners voted 4-to-3 to purchase a 68 acre tract of land at 1860 Buffalo Road, just north of the intersection with Booker Dairy Road, for the facility. Two county commissioners – Vice Chairman Ted Godwin and newly elected Commissioner Keith Branch – were in the audience for the meeting.
Smithfield Selma Chamber President Rick Childrey spoke first. Childrey said in 1998 the Chamber paid a consultant to study the area. The report indicated the US 70, Buffalo Road and Booker Dairy Road areas would be the future growth areas. And if the recession had not have hit the proposed site for the jail would have already been developed.
In January 2008, the Smithfield Town Council approved a plan for theRiver Bluffs subdivision, offering homes ranging from $175,000 to $1 million. It was designed to compete with home sites in Glen Laurel, Riverwood, and Flowers Plantation. The subdivision was planned for the same 68 acres now being considered for the jail, Childrey said. The development would have included 106 single-family homes and 62 townhouse units. In the 2008 meeting the developer told council members the new subdivision would create a “destination”, and “a reason for people to pass through Clayton to Smithfield”.
However the recession hit, the project folded and the land was sold.
Childrey said the chamber was for positive economic growth but a jail would not bring that type of growth or needed jobs.
Mayor Pro Tem Emery Ashley asked Childrey if he had presented his concerns to county commissioners. Childrey said no. Ashley then ask if anyone from the County had sought the advice of the chamber during the selection process. Childrey again said no. He said a meeting with county leader was held in September but only when the chamber asked for the meeting.
Childrey said the Chamber would like to see the County use land they already own off Highway 210 near the landfill for the new jail site. “Some county commissioners are in favor of that.”
Councilman Travis Scott thanked citizens who had called him expressing their concerns. He encouraged the public to speak with county commissioners as well.
Councilman Perry Harris said the Town had presented other potential sites to the county other than the Buffalo Road site. “This particular location, they knew there were issues. We have tried to work with the county very closely. The Sheriff wants a facility as close to the courthouse as possible.” Addressing the standing room only crowd at the meeting, “We hear you. I’ve had calls. You really need to reach out to your commissioner.”
Two Smithfield Selma High students spoke in opposition. One student, Antonio McDaniel asked council members if they would like attending a school near a large jail. “If I was a parent and I knew a jail would be built near my child’s school, I would want them to go to a different school.”
Susan Augustyn, a Brookwood Drive resident, said she was alarmed she had not been notified by the county about the proposed jail.
Mayor Andy Moore told Augustine there was nothing before the Council Tuesday night. Mayor Moore said the Town does have jurisdiction over the property although it was not within the city limits.
Wiping away tears, Dionna Augustyn said she had three children who attend Wilson’s Mills Elementary School. She is fearful of her children attending Smithfield Selma High should the jail be built close to the public school.
Jeff Navarro, Economic Development Chairman of the Smithfield Selma Chamber, said it was clear the county needs a new jail but he is opposed to the current location. Navarro said the future Mountain to Sea Trail will intersect with the proposed jail property and people using the trail, especially women, would be subject to being yelled at by inmates in the outside jail yard. “I don’t want a bunch of people hollerin’ at my wife.”
Attorney Nicole Booker, whose children attend nearby Neuse Charter School said she does not feel represented by county commissioners – pointing out no county commissioner resides within the Smithfield city limits. Booker urged the Town Board to resist any efforts by commissioners to sway them to vote for the jail site for fear the county might move the courthouse to Pine Level or Clayton. “Don’t let the fear of the unknown sway you to vote to rezone the land.”
Rick High, a gang educator from Ohio who now lives in town said the location was not good. “To build a jail next to a school doesn’t make any sense.”
Two Buffalo Road residents also spoke in opposition, including Ken Langston, who previously represented a company building commercial sites in communities. “I have never went into a community asking where is the jail so I can build a shopping center. Langston, who also hold a real estate license added. “Or a real estate agent being asked by a client where is the jail so I can build a home.”
Langston called it “irresponsible” for the county to build a jail on Buffalo Road when he believes they could expand and build a new jail in a parking lot adjacent to the courthouse. Langston said he doesn’t want inmates as his neighbor.
David Stevens called the plan “crazy.” He asked, “Is anyone here for the project?” When no one raised their hands he replied, “There’s your answer!” Those in the audience then began applauding.
William Ragsdale was the final speaker. He said the jail site vote could be the most important decision members of the town council make while on the board. Ragsdale said for every one person who spoke there were at least 100 more too afraid to speak. He said that children who live in Smithfield are bused out of town to attend West Smithfield Elementary.
“The Board of Education send children 5 miles out of town to go to school on Galilee Road. If it’s good enough for the school system, it’s good enough for the county,” referencing nearby county property at the landfill.
Just before the meeting ending at 9:15pm Tuesday, and after the crowd of opponents had already left the council chambers, Mayor Pro Tem Ashley asked if fellow board members would be interested in adopting a resolution to send to the county urging them to look for an alternative site, saying it would save them time and money. Commissioner Harris agreed. However, the council ended the meeting without adopting any resolution.