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Public hearing to be held over ordinance change for new jail

By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The Warren County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing next week on a proposed revision to the zoning ordinance that is vital to building a regional jail with Shenandoah and Rappahannock counties.

The commission will hold a hearing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the County Government Center on North Commerce Avenue on a request by the Board of Supervisors to add buildings "used primarily for federal, state, county or local government purposes" as a use permitted by right in the Industrial zoning district.

The supervisors are considering two parcels totaling 28 acres in the U.S. 340-522 industrial corridor as a potential site for the jail. One parcel is currently zoned industrial and the other is zoned commercial.

County officials have signed letters of intent for the properties and advised architects to begin updating the community-based corrections plan, Planning Director Taryn Logan said. Buildings used for government purposes are allowed by-right in the commercial zoning district. A text amendment is required in order for the jail to be located in the Industrial district.

In June, the county agreed to a six-month option on the two parcels to conduct further studies before making any final decisions on whether to purchase the property. In an e-mail last week, County Administrator Douglas P. Stanley said Rappahannock County was never considered as a location for the jail because of its proximity to Shenandoah County and "the lack of adequate infrastructure and industrially zoned land." Potential sites in Shenandoah County were considered, but officials there have said they are not interested in hosting the facility, Stanley said.

A study conducted by Moseley Architects determined that Warren County will need a jail that is four times the size of its current capacity of 79 inmates by 2020. By double bunking, the current jail on Jackson Street has been averaging more than 100 inmates a day since 2002, according to the county's capital improvements plan. The jail opened in 1950.

Some officials have expressed doubts about the regional jail concept, with some saying they aren't fully convinced the state will cover half of the construction costs for the estimated $69 million project.

Nevertheless, when compared to the option of building a new local jail without any reimbursement from the state, Warren County could save more than $8 million through 2020 by sticking with the regional jail approach, which appears to be the most cost-effective option for taxpayers, Stanley said. Last fiscal year, Warren County began setting aside $250,000 annually toward funding the jail. The county's share of the debt service toward the project is estimated at $700,784 a year beginning in 2013.

Warren County officials are also moving forward with plans to build a new, 38,000-square-foot public safety building. The county could be in a position to pay construction costs for that project with cash instead of long-term borrowing, which would further free up the debt service capacity for the county's contribution toward the regional jail, Stanley said.

A final decision on the jail and its location will not be made until sometime after the General Assembly session in 2010.

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