Carthage Board Hears From Jail Opponents
Carthage Mayor Ronnie Fields ordered an extraordinary 30-minute public-comment session added to the July Town Board agenda to give opponents of a county jail expansion a chance to air their views.
Signs and petition tables sprouted on the grass outside the MacDonald building, and the meeting room filled to capacity. Residents signed up to speak, limited to three minutes apiece. Fields asked Eddie Johnson, the jail administrator, to come and explain the actual proposal.
Opponents decried what they described as a detention center with up to 800 beds housing dangerous criminals within sight of an elementary school, and begged that it be built somewhere outside downtown. Again and again, Fields pounded his gavel for order and said this was a matter for county commissioners and not the Town Board.
Johnson set up a display showing a color rendering of the proposed 208-by-104-foot building with space for the Sheriff's Office, the 911 center, secure evidence rooms, and other facilities on the McNeil Street side. Opposite, facing Dowd Street and invisible from the school side, a V-shaped pod would add 168 beds for detainees, with a corridor to 68 retained from the present detention center.
Dotted lines showed where a second such pod could be added if needed in the future. Johnson cited state law requiring all county sheriffs to have secure detention facilities "within the governmental area" near the courts.
"We will never house federal prisoners in this administration," Johnson said, responding to fears expressed by many who spoke.
As time ran out, Fields promised to ask the architectural firm to set up a future meeting to respond to concerns and answer questions once the county commission has made its decision.
The board then held two public hearings and took action on requests for changes in the text of the town's zoning ordinance.
In both cases, the town commissioners followed the recommendation of the Planning Board. They accepted its recommendation to deny a request by Rick Edelman and Lee Bolerjack to make auto repair a conditional use in the Central Business District. It remains a permitted use in other districts. Bolerjack wanted to move his existing business into the old Carthage Fire Station, which Edelman owns.
The board agreed with a recommendation to change Recreational Parks and Camp-sites from a conditional use to a permitted use in the Airport Zoning District.
There was some discussion among commissioners about the N.C. Department of Transportation holding meetings on proposed bypass routes without notifying the town or the public in general.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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