EDA rejects supervisors’ request for land for correctional center

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Negative opinions predominated during the first of two public information session Thursday on the proposed juvenile correctional center to be located south of the Town of Windsor.

Days earlier, the Isle of Wight County Economic Development Authority voted not to transfer the property at its Jan. 8 meeting, but plans to meet again to reconsider the action, according to Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.  

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EDA member Richard J. Holland Jr. said he was a long-time opponent of the correctional center because transferring the property to the state for the facility would mean giving up future tax revenue that would have come from a business if one were to be attracted. 

 “And we’re getting a prison with criminals in our backyard,” said Holland, who is also CEO and Chairman of the Board of Farmers Bank. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The EDA currently owns the property, which was purchased by Isle of Wight in 2009. 

EDA member Len Alphin was upset over how the proposal has evolved publicly, as well as the loss of potential revenue.

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but this is a prison,” said Alphin. 

The proposed juvenile correctional center would house 60 male youth, ages 14-20 who have committed felonies, some serious in nature and could include murder, rape and robbery, said Andrew Block, director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.  

Alphin, who had questioned the types of crimes the youth may or may not have committed, said, “Be upfront so everyone knows what we’re getting.”

Softening a bit, Alphin added later, “everyone needs a second chance.” 

Block said the idea was to make a smaller facility closer to family, and since a good amount of Virginia’s youthful offenders are from the Hampton Roads region, this location was a good pick. 

Block said that historically, the state’s current juvenile correctional system has a recidivism rate of 75 percent within the first three years of release, but this new plan is an attempt to do a better job at rehabilitating the youth.

“The majority of our people would like you to do better somewhere else,” said Holland. 

“You are doing a terrible job,” said Holland about the recidivism rate. 

The proposed facility would be a new model for the state, combining incarceration with job training, educational and athletic opportunities and medical and counseling services in a smaller group treatment setting.

The facility is expected to generate 240 jobs, as well as the Commonwealth covering three quarters of the cost of running a water and sewer line down Route 258 — lines that could also be made available to homes and businesses. Isle of Wight is pitching in $500,000 for the utilities, as well as donating 20 acres of land. 

County officials have also indicted that another business is interested in locating next to the proposed correctional center. 

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said the added jobs, the water and sewer line and the possibility of additional meals tax revenues in Windsor were considered the “return on investment.”

Other residents were concerned with their property values. According to a map provided by county officials, there are three single-family homes located within a half mile of the proposed facility. 

Other maps showed what is located within a half mile of the state’s current juvenile correctional facility, Bon Air, in Chesterfield County, as well as the Western Tidewater Regional Jail for adults in Suffolk. 

Both facilities have residential neighborhoods within a half-mile radius, with median assessed values ranging from $173,000 – $245,250. 

The neighborhood in Suffolk was built after the jail was constructed. 

The Bon Air facility opened in 1914 on what used to be a farm, said Block. Since then, the area has filled in with residential neighborhoods and businesses. 

Block said the proposed facility would be surrounded by a fence and use state-of-the-art security systems to ensure public safety. 

“They very last thing I would want is for a kid to escape,” said Block, adding that since the fence was erected around the Bon Air center in the 1990s, there have been no escapes. 

When the youth have served their sentences, they are released back to their families or other arrangements are made, such as monitored independent living units, said Block. 

The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice makes sure the youth have a place to go after they are released, he said. 


IW Economic Development Authority owns the land

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight County Economic Development Authority owns the property being eyed for the state juvenile correctional facility and that is why it is involved in the process. 

Isle of Wight County purchased the property in 2009 as part of Phase III of the intermodal park and deeded it to the EDA. 

At its Jan. 8 meeting, the EDA voted not to convey the property and did not indicate if that was the state or the county, with either party being an option for this project, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

The motion, made by EDA member Richard J. Holland Jr., indicated that the EDA wanted to wait until after the public information session before taking definitive action on whether or not to convey the property, said Robertson. 

Of the seven-member EDA, Ron Pack abstained from the Jan. 8 vote and James Ford voted against it, according to Robertson. 

Voting not to convey the property at the Jan. 8 meeting was Holland, Len Alphin, Diana Beale, Carroll E. Keen Jr. and Tim Hillegass, according to Robertson.

Robertson said the EDA is planning to have a called meeting to further consider a decision on transferring the land. 

Concerns raised by the EDA at its Jan. 8 meeting centered on the lack of tax revenue the project, being a state facility, would generate, as well as the nature of the project. Some members of the EDA criticized the county’s original purchase of the land due to its wetlands issues and that the parcel’s best acreage was going to the correctional facility, as well as how the project was introduced to the public. 

EDA members were also frustrated with how they were receiving information from county officials.

“I learn more from The Smithfield Times than I do staff. If you want to know what’s going on, read The Smithfield Times,” said Alphin. 

A similar sequence of events ended the project in Chesapeake — the original location for the proposed juvenile correctional center. 

The Department of Juvenile Justice had worked with the city for a few years to build a joint facility on city-owned property, said Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton.

However, a super-majority vote was needed to transfer the property to the state and that failed, he said. 

Since then, the state has been skittish about that sort of situation unfolding because it doesn’t want a repeat in Isle of Wight County, said Robertson.

If this fails, it would not bode well for the county’s relationship with the state, he said. 

The property was deeded to the EDA to make property transfers easier for any type of project, said Keaton at the public information session held Jan. 10 on the proposed youth correctional facility. 

One component of that arrangement is that no public hearing is legally required if the transfer is for a state facility.

However, the Board of Supervisors can hold a public hearing if it deems it necessary or desirable.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree told the audience at the public information session, that contrary to popular belief, “it’s not a done deal.” 

Acree said the county could hold a public hearing if that is what is wanted. 

Holland Jr. said residents don’t want this and that the public information session was merely, “after the fact.”

“This is a show,” he said, adding that having a formal public hearing now would mean “zero.” 


Correctional center information flow criticized

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Several individuals complained about how news of the proposed juvenile correctional facility was rolled out to the public during the Jan. 10 information session. 

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said conversations began in December 2017 and quickly involved the Windsor Town Council.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree suggested including the Town Council because he knew the idea of a prison near town would be controversial.

The Smithfield Times initially reported on the proposal in February 2018 based on a comment from a Windsor Town Council member. 

Keaton pointed out that the Town Council signed a letter of support in April 2018 approving the project — a move needed to get the General Assembly to change the funding appropriation to Isle of Wight County. That move was finalized in June, he said.

As soon as the budget appropriate was complete, the county and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice held a public meeting in Windsor in July.

Isle of Wight County Economic Development Authority member Richard J. Holland Jr. said the Town Council doesn’t want it now. 

“They’re bitterly opposed,” he said. 

Former Windsor Mayor Rita Richardson admitted to signing the letter, but said the concept seemed different at the time — something to help youth and seniors and get utilities to Phase III of the intermodal park. 

However, once it was revealed that the property may have wetlands issues, questions began to arise, she said.

The support letter was based on information the Town Council had at that time, said Richardson.

The letter, dated April 10, and addressed to Del. Emily Brewer, R-64th,” said “as you may be aware, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice is proposing a 60-bed juvenile detention center in Isle of Wight County. Based off the information we have received, we believe the project will have a positive economic benefit on the town, the county and the Hampton Roads region.” The letter went on to say the town was supportive of the state budget amendment to make it happen. 

A prior letter, dated Feb. 27, and signed by then Board of Supervisors Chairman Rudolph Jefferson, stated that the county had “received very favorable feedback from the members of the Windsor Town Council.” 

The wetlands issue arose from a change in federal law concerning what is considered wetlands in 2011 — a change that pushed larger parts of Phase III of the intermodal park under that designation.

However, the county has received a preliminary determination from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would allow for construction of the facility on 20 acres on the Route 258 parcel.  {/mprestriction}