Proponents believe Concordia plan would be good use of taxpayer dollars
The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors will have to go back to the drawing board after the Storm Lake Planning and Zoning Commission Monday night recommended denial of a rezoning request to make way for the former Concordia site on West Milwaukee to become the new site for the county jail.
Several neighbors in the area spoke out against the change.
"We really don't care for a jail in our neighborhood," said Larry Brunning of 923 W. Milwaukee. Speaking directly to the Realtor for the deal, Margie Robinson, Brunning asked, "Would you buy a home in an area where there was a jail?"
"If the price was right, yes," Robinson said.
Brunning also brought up safety, saying, "Just because the jail is there you're going to have a certain amount of risk."
The Concordia Lutheran School Board has been in negotiations with the county to sell the building on West Milwaukee Avenue for use as a new jail.
Once intended as a school, Concordia Lutheran was unable to raise funds to complete the building.
Overcrowding and legal mandates for women and juvenile prisoners led Supervisors to examine a number of options. The Jail Task Force Committee had considered expanding the current jail, but cost and parking were issues. The Concordia Building appeared to be a better alternative since it is essentially a shell that could accommodate prefabricated jail cells.
Those speaking in favor of allowing the rezoning included Supervisors Chair Herb Crampton and Robinson.
"The building is large enough," Crampton said. He said officers could drive inside the building with prisoners. "The only people you would see coming and going would be the sheriff and his deputies," Crampton said.
"I would like to commend people for considering options that will save taxpayers a lot of money," Robinson said. "I do feel that that's a very good use of the building."
Attorney Edean Murray, speaking for Hawkeye Fuels which is connected to the Concordia Lutheran School building, noted that there had been an agreement that Concordia Lutheran would build a firewall between the two buildings; however, that had not yet happened.
"It is directly connected to our building so there would have to be some engineering and a firewall," Murray said.
Brunning, speaking for neighbors, said that there are other issues, such as lighting. "To be bright enough, it's going to be a distraction. We are very strongly opposed to this."
Also opposed to the proposed rezoning was Chuck Foster, 817 W. Milwaukee. Foster brought up concerns over the proximity of the jail to his property and the need for an adequate fire lane. Foster said his property value would drop 25 percent.
Gail Sundberg, 919 W. Milwaukee, said she lived next to a vacant lot located next to the jail. Sundberg said she would want a chain link fence around the jail and she was also concerned about lighting. "Property values are going to go down," she said.
While the commission members lauded the county for finding an economical alternative to its jail woes, they all questioned the location of the proposed jail.
Steve Neuroth said the commission's concern was not whether the county would save money on a jail but whether the rezoning would fit the neighborhood and how it would affect area residents.
"We definitely need a new jail in this town," said commissioner Dick Keen. "I can't really see where it would be a stigma there but I can see where it would be a problem."
Chair Joe Galey noted the serious nature of the commission's recommendation. "This is not a variance. This is actually changing the ordinance," Galey said.
City Code Enforcement Officer Scott Olesen said that if the rezoning were approved by both planning and zoning and later the Storm Lake City Council, it would have to be approved by the Board of Adjustment.
After further discussion, all commissioners present, including Bill Johnson, Neuroth, Galey, and Dick Keen, voted against recommending that the rezoning be approved. Not present were Randy Johnson, John Fitzpatrick, and Sue Thompson.
The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors had just met in special session Friday to review updates on the possible purchase of a building on West Milwaukee Avenue owed by Concordia Lutheran Church for possible renovation as a county jail.
Jail Task Force Chair Bill Strawn gave supervisors copies of a preliminary report by structural engineers who inspected the building to determine its suitability for renovation as a county jail. The supervisors met in closed session to discuss a new counteroffer from Concordia but made no decision.