Chocowinity OKs industrial park jail locationPublished 1:19am Thursday, June 5, 2014
Tuesday night, Chocowinity Town Commissioners paved the way for a new Beaufort County jail to be located in its industrial park.
The vote amended a light industrial zoning ordinance to specifically include language allowing for a detention center. A new county detention center is currently in the planning phase — an action to which three of seven County Commissioners are opposed. The existing jail is located in the basement of the Beaufort County Courthouse and has consistently suffered from overcrowding, as well as a variety of operational and safety issues. Plans for the new facility incorporate not only a detention center, but a new Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, E911 call center and Emergency Management Office.
Town of Chocowinity and county residents crowded the town board’s meeting room and lined the central hallway of Town Hall, while others gathered outside to witness the vote that has been a hot-button issue in the past several weeks. According to Beaufort County Fire Marshall Curtis Avery, only 24 people were allowed in the small room during the public hearing, so several of the 17 people addressing the board had to be called in from elsewhere to speak.
Those who spoke represented a broad range of interests: a land developer, the head of Chocowinity Middle School’s PTO, a retired law enforcement official, a county commissioner and residents with land close to the Chocowinity Industrial Park.
Most spoke against the proposed amendment, citing a chilling effect on future residential and business development, devaluation of property, safety and the cost to taxpayers for the construction of an $18 million public safety facility.
“What baffles me is that you speak as if this jail is a necessary component for growth,” said Harold Smith, a Chocowinity resident and chair of the Stop the Jail committee. He added that a vote in favor of the zoning amendment would be a case of “bad government.”
“Please stop this tonight and send the county commissioners back to the drawing board to develop a better plan,” Smith urged the town commissioners.
Several people, however, were in support of the change, including two Town of Chocowinity staff members who spoke not as town employees, but residents of Chocowinity: Town Clerk Joy McRoy and Public Works Director Kevin Brickhouse.
“I love the idea of having a sheriff’s office in our backyard,” Brickhouse said. “It’s not a prison. It’s a sheriff’s office.”
Additional reasoning included the fact that maintenance for the industrial park’s pump station was currently drawing monies away from the town even though no industry or structure exists there as of yet. He also said Duke Energy and N.C. Department of Commerce officials had assured him that the industrial park housing a public safety center would not be a detriment, but lead to a jump start for the park.
Duke Energy, in conjunction with independent consultants and the state, is currently making a study of the park — a study that will ultimately lead to accreditation by the state and be used as a marketing tool to attract new industry.
During discussion before the vote, Commissioner William Albritton denounced “scare tactics” and misinformation he felt were put in use to drum up opposition to the vote. Commissioner Arlene Jones stressed that each member of the board had researched the issue thoroughly before coming to a decision and each was doing what they thought was best for the Town of Chocowinity.
All four Chocowinity commissioners voted in favor of the amendment.