Archived Story

MOVING FORWARD: Public hearing to address jail in Chocowinity

Published 8:01pm Saturday, May 31, 2014

Residents of Chocowinity will weigh in on a heated issue at a public hearing Tuesday night: the prospect of building a new jail in the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. Chocowinity Commissioners will address a change to the town’s zoning ordinance to include language that allows for the construction of a jail in the ETJ.

Earlier this year, Beaufort County Commissioners selected the county-owned Chocowinity Industrial Park as the location for a new jail. It’s a decision that has some residents on the south side of the river concerned.

“Putting a jail there will not only negatively impact adjacent property owners but will negatively impact potential industrial and residential development in the surrounding area,” said Chocowinity resident Harold Smith.

Smith, chair of the “Stop the Jail Committee,” spoke at the town’s April meeting. He and others cited their concerns about putting a jail in a town that has only seen positive growth over the last few decades.

For Cindy Haddock, owner of property near the Industrial Park, the issue is about property values — at the meeting, she said state representatives told her the property would be devalued by the construction of a rest area in the park on U.S. Highway 17.

“Surely if a $4 million rest area is going to devalue our property, a jail’s going to devalue our property,” Haddock said.

“We’ll be known as a jail town,” said Keith Kidwell, a Beaufort County Commissioner candidate, who lives close to Chocowinity.

But for all the objections to locating a jail in Chocowinity, there’s also a contingent of supporters who argue the exact opposite — that a jail in the Industrial Park will actually jump start industry interest because power and sewer infrastructure will already be in place, according to Chocowinity Mayor Jimmy Mobley.

Mobley and Chocowinity Public Works Director Kevin Brickhouse met last week with consultants from McCallum Sweeney and representatives from Duke Energy and the North Carolina Department of Commerce as part of Duke Energy’s 2014 Site Readiness study being done on the Chocowinity Industrial Park. The Chocowinity site was one of 18 across the state chosen for the assessment and will ultimately be used as a marketing tool to attract business to the area. Mobley said when he and Brickhouse addressed the prospect of a jail in the Industrial Park, asking whether it would have an impact on attracting future business, the response was “Absolutely not.”

“The consultants said putting a jail in the park might actually be a good thing — a jump start for the park,” Mobley said.

Mobley said he and Chocowinity Commissioner William Albritton have also done due diligence, recently making a trip to Edgecombe County to visit its new jail. Like Beaufort County’s jail, Edgecombe’s jail was located in an aging courthouse in the county seat of Tarboro. Now, the new complex, housing the jail, sheriff’s office, magistrates’ office and emergency services, is located 7.1 miles outside of Tarboro in the town’s industrial park.

“You wouldn’t have known it was a detention center if it wasn’t for the name on the front of the building,” Mobley said.

The Edgecombe Detention Center is surrounded by other businesses and backs up to a nice residential area, Mobley said. However, its construction, to which many residents objected, brought about an unexpected change in attitude, he added.

“Both businesses and residents felt safer because the law was there,” he said.

Mobley said he feels like misinformation has played a part in some residents’ opposition to a new jail.

“The Town of Chocowinity has not, did not, ask for the jail to be put over here,” Mobley said. “I was asked one question: ‘Can the town of Chocowinity handle it through our sewage lines?’ and the answer is yes. Anything else would not be the truth.”

He and other supporters, like Chocowinity resident Dave Wheelock, see the new construction as a way to fast-track growth in Chocowinity.

“This municipality is definitely moving forward and I say that as someone who worked for 30 years for a municipality in New Jersey,” Wheelock said.

For Mobley, a new jail is an opportunity, not only for the town, but for all residents of Beaufort County. His reasoning: building it on county-owned land will save the county from purchasing land; building it in an area that’s already capable of providing necessary power and sewer infrastructure will do the same; the town can provide services the county doesn’t currently have.

“The Town of Chocowinity will own and maintain the sewer (service). A person will check it every day and sometimes twice a day at no cost to the county,” Mobley said. “It’s savings to the county because the county does not have any personnel that deals with sewer. … The county has asked us because they don’t have the facilities and they don’t have the staff. We are working with the City of Washington and the county to help everything to grow. When we grow, everybody grows.”

More importantly, Mobley said that if a jail in the Industrial Park will kick off bringing more business to Chocowinity, that means county natives will have more opportunity for jobs; more infrastructure means more services, like sewer, can be offered to resident on the south side of the river. Both of which mean there’s potential for even more growth, he said.

“Never, ever, will the town of Chocowinity, myself, or any of the (town) commissioners, do anything to harm the people on the south side of river. We’re doing what we can to keep taxes down, to keep others’ taxes down in Beaufort County,” Mobley said.

As to question Chocowinity stagnating as a jail town, Mobley does not believe that’s in Chocowinity’s future: “Do we want to be the jail town of Beaufort County? Well, if that’s the case, has Washington been a jail town?”

The public hearing will be Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Chocowinity Town Hall.


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