Plan for new jail approved

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission voted Tuesday to approve the site plan for a temporary detention facility to house the Carter County Jail's inmate population.
   However, commission members were skeptical the facility's "temporary" status could change to permanent once built.
   The site plan calls for the detention facility to be built in the northern parking lot of the County Courthouse Annex adjacent to East Elk Avenue. The County Commission voted last month to spend up to $1 million for modular units to house 96 jail inmates.
   City Planning Director David Ornduff said city staff required the relocation of existing electrical lines near the parking lot and sedimentation control along a drainage culvert between East Elk Avenue and the annex building.
   Vehicles parking will be at a premium since the development eliminates 25 existing parking spaces at the annex.
   "We believe there are enough parking spaces to accommodate (the public)," Ornduff said.
   County Mayor Dale Fair submitted the facility's site plan to the city last month. The county faces two class-action lawsuits filed by current and former inmates due to overcrowding conditions at the jail. Built to house over 90 inmates, the existing jail population now exceeds 200.
   Five separate housing units will make up the facility. The detention facility will be constructed by the Eagle Company, which has agreed to a set price of $920,000 for the county.
   When the commission's vice-chairman Victor Deloach asked Ornduff how long the detention facility would remain standing, commission member Nancy Alsup interjected, "Forever". Ornduff said Fair had told him the structure would be temporary until the county made a decision on pursuing a permanent jail facility. Alsup said the facility would be an "eyesore" for motorists along U.S. Highway 19E.
   "That is a lot of money to be spent for the taxpayers," said Deloach, who questioned why the annex's administrative offices were not relocated and the entire building converted into one large detention facility.
   Commission members voted 5-0 approving the site plan with chairman Haynes Elliott and Sam Shipley absent.
   In other business, the commission voted 5-0 approving a site plan request from Murphy Oil for a gasoline station on the Wal-Mart Supercenter property.
   Final plat approval was also granted for property located at East C Street, Broad Street and Lynn Avenue where the Walgreens drug store development is planned. Planners deferred granting amended site plan approval for the drug store until properties involved in the development were verified as acquired by developer Ed Street.
   Planners also approved closing an alley between Field Road and Carter Boulevard as requested by members of Immanuel Baptist Church. An easement existed through the alley but did not contain utility lines Ornduff said.