At the stroke of midnight on Monday, the option on a 68 acre tract of land for a proposed new Johnston County Jail quietly expired.
Last November, Johnston County Commissioners voted 4-to-3 to purchase the property at 1860 Buffalo Road near Smithfield for a Public Safety Center complex. The county agreed to buy the land from businessman Frank Lee at a cost of $23,000 per acre of $1,564,000.
The County gave Lee $1,000 in exchange for time to conduct soil tests and to seek the necessary rezoning from the Town of Smithfield. That never happened.
Immediately after the story first ran on WTSB Radio and JoCoReport.com opposition began mounting to the proposed jail site. The Town of Selma adopted a resolution opposing the location. The Smithfield Selma Chamber said they were opposed to the site selection. The Town of Smithfield said they were never involved in the discussions and Mayor Pro Tem Emery Ashley wrote commissioners expressing his personal concerns.
The County nor Lee ever filed an application with the Town of Smithfield to have the property rezoned.
The next step in the site selection will happen on Monday, August 7th during the Commissioners 10:00am monthly meeting. County Manager Rick Hester said representatives of Moseley Architects will present a report from a recent study on the advantages and disadvantages of locating a jail site in Downtown Smithfield versus a site elsewhere.
What happens next remains to be seen.
Sheriff Steve Bizzell has been seeking a new jail facility since 2008 to help deal with overcrowding in the Johnston County Jail. Because of the overcrowding, dozens of inmates are being housed daily in the Wayne, Harnett and Sampson County Jails at a projected cost of nearly $1 million per year to Johnston County taxpayers.