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Vigo Co. Commissioners Facing Backlash For Proposed Jail Site

The proposed jail would be located at the former International Paper Mill site off Prairieton Road. (Photo: DLZ Corporation)

Vigo County Commissioners are facing criticism for their decision to build the new county jail at a former paper mill site.

The commissioners announced their plans earlier this week to build a new “security annex,” including the jail and a sheriff’s office, on the land. They say because it’s already county property, it’s an affordable option for the new facility.

But city council members discussed the proposal at their meeting Thursday after residents voiced their concerns. And council member Martha Crossen says the commissioners are seeking approval for that location in a way that cuts the city council out of the process.

“There’s nothing before the city council from the commissioners, and that actually is the problem,” Crossen says.

Commissioners submitted a request for a zoning variance to the Terre Haute Board of Appeals this week. The request asks for permission to build a fence around the proposed jail site, as well as some recreational areas.

The request asks for approval to build a fence outside of the typical eight-foot allowance for the current zone. It also asks to use a “vegetative screening,” rather than a solid fence.

Commissioners asked the council to rezone the same property last year, but withdrew the request following public backlash.

But because this year's request is only seeking a zoning variance, it goes to the Board of Zoning Appeals and the council will not have an opportunity to decide the issue.

Terre Haute City Attorney Eddie Felling says even if the variance is approved, the county would also need a builder’s permit.

“The approval or denial of this doesn’t necessarily give a green light or a red light to any construction at all,” Felling says.

He says the city engineer would have to approve the builder’s permit in order for construction to start. If the engineer denies the request, the county could appeal to the BZA for a final decision.

The BZA plans to vote on the zoning variance at its next meeting on Nov. 14.

The request does include some information on the jail plans; it says that the facilities would be roughly 130,000 square feet and include around 480 beds. That’s 47 beds fewer than recommended in an independent study of the county judicial system conducted this year.

Vigo County has faced multiple lawsuits for overcrowding. A federal judge recently ordered county officials to provide progress reports on plans for a new facility, following a ruling that the treatment of inmates in the current jail was unconstitutional.

Officials must submit a timetable for construction of the new jail by Oct. 15. 

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