Opinions could be swayed
"Give us more information so we can make a decision." That seems to be the consensus among a number of members of the Storm Lake Planning and Zoning Commission regarding a jail on West Milwaukee Avenue.
The commission Aug. 9 gave a thumbs-down to a request by Concordia Lutheran School to rezone property its one-time school site to allow for a new county jail. Neighborhood objections regarding noise, excess lighting, and a perceived impact on property values led the commission to vote against the rezoning proposal.
Planning and Zoning members told the Pilot-Tribune this week that they have not entirely dismissed the Concordia idea.
Commission member Steve Neuroth said he would reconsider the rezoning request "if the neighbors weren't opposed to it. That's my concern, that the neighbors are not opposed to it. I'm not against having the type of jail they're talking about. The neighbors need to know the plan. I think that's it."
"It wasn't a complete presentation," Commissioner Dick Keen said of the rezoning request. "It would help the neighbors too" if they could be given a better understanding what appearance of the jail would be. "I don't think there was any adequate presentation."
Keen contrasted the lack of information regarding the Concordia property with the ongoing Project AWAYSIS presentations. "That's been fantastically presented," Keen said.
While Keen recognizes the need for a new jail, he also said people in the immediate area need to be heard.
"I'm totally in favor of a new jail in town," Keen said. "I think we need a new jail. You've got to consider the feelings of the people out there too."
"I think all of us would listen to it again," said Commissioner John Fitzpatrick. "I think these people made a big mistake by not talking to their neighbors."
While he had no problem with the jail itself, Fitzpatrick said residents needed more information in order to know what impact the jail could have for them.
"I've got nothing against it being there," Fitzpatrick said. "They (are residents) weren't getting any questions answered. I'm presuming sooner or later it will be in front of us again. We're willing to entertain this location again."
Commissioner Bill Johnson agreed that more information was needed for the commission to make a decision.
"I think everybody thought it was a slam-dunk deal," Johnson said. While the economics of the Concordia proposal was an aspect the task force addressed, Johnson said that was not a primarily consideration of Planning and Zoning, noting, "That's not our job."
"We're looking at suitability more than anything," Johnson said. He said the commission also had to listen to neighbors that would feel an impact with a jail near them. In any case, Johnson said the commission's vote was advisory.
"They (city council) could override us anyway," Johnson said.
Voting down the rezoning request were Bill Johnson, Steve Neuroth, Joe Galey, and Dick Keen. Randy Johnson, John Fitzpatrick, and Sue Thompson were not at the meeting.
Jail Task Force Chair Bill Strawn said it would cost $120 to file a rezoning request with the Planning and Zoning Commission again, a decision that the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors will likely have to make since the task force is turning the reins of the jail question over the the county.
"I think at this point it's the supervisors' decision," Strawn said. "I want to stay with those project through to its completion."
The Planning and Zoning vote was advisory. However, the Storm Lake City Council usually follows P&Z recommendations.
Concordia has been in negotiations with the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors in closed sessions for several weeks regarding the possible sale of the property for use as a county jail. Concordia, which once had plans for a school at the site but has since made alternative arrangements, no longer has a need for the property which consists of approximately six acres and an unfinished building shell.
The county's architect, Chris Schiltz of Koch Hazard Baltzer Ltd., said that the building would work well as a jail facility. Schiltz presented plans for both 39-bed and 55-bed facilities.