Supervisors to talk terms of property transfer

Published 7:19 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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This Thursday, Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors will further discuss the terms of a proposed agreement between the county and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. If signed, it would deed 20 acres of land along Walters Highway (U.S. Route 258) to the DJJ for the purpose of constructing a state-run, 60-bed juvenile correctional center on the site. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Windsor Town Center, which is located at 23361 Courthouse Highway behind Georgie D. Tyler Middle School in Windsor.

The board had previously discussed the matter during a March 7 work session, at which time the supervisors and public received their first look at an architectural rendering of the proposed facility created by Mosley Architects. The design, as the DJJ has promised repeatedly over the past several months, appears more reminiscent of a school or college campus than a typical prison. It includes an education building; a combined dining and medical building; five residential buildings, each of which would house 12 people, an administration building and athletic fields.

At said work session, some of the supervisors were taken aback by provisions in the DJJ’s draft contract, which states that the county, in addition to gifting the land and contributing $500,000 toward extending water and sewer service to the property, would foot the bill for some of the pre-construction site work. This would include razing the two houses on the property, closing the two on-site septic systems, performing any needed environmental remediation and closing all but one well, which will remain open for use by the construction workers.

Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty said he felt the board should stay firm with its offer to contribute $500,000 toward extending utility services, and not agree to any additional costs for site work. The board also discussed the possibility of adding provisions to the agreement that would prohibit the facility’s inmate population from expanding beyond 60, and mandate that the offenses of said inmates be of a lower-risk variety, at least until the DJJ staff is fully trained on how to operate the new facility.

McCarty and Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree also discussed pursuing some form of cost recovery in lieu of taxes, since state facilities are exempt by state law from municipal taxes. Such reimbursements already exist for properties owned by local governments that are transferred to the state for adult facilities run by the Department of Corrections, McCarty said.

The county also solicited comments from area residents via its website and paper comment sheets. According to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, who read some of the submitted comments at the work session, some of the remarks included having the state fund and install some type of audible alert system and/or reverse 911 to warn residents in the event of an escape; the creation of a community advisory group to liaise between the facility and the surrounding residents; and, once the facility is operational, having the DJJ provide regular updates to the county on to what extent outcomes for inmates have improved.

On Tuesday, Robertson said that most of the supervisors’ and residents’ suggestions made at the March 7 meeting had been communicated to the state. However, the county had received no response as of yet.

Among the terms already listed in a draft of the contract dated Feb. 28, is a reverter clause that says the property will revert to county ownership if construction has not commenced by the third anniversary of the county’s settlement with the state, provided the county gives notice within 180 days following said anniversary. Also included in this draft is a provision allowing the county the first right of refusal if the state chooses to sell the property before the 50th anniversary of the settlement.

This means the state will offer the county the opportunity to buy back the property before it is offered to anyone else. The state has also requested in the draft that the county restrict development on the adjacent parcel to uses permitted in light industrial zoning, except for sawmills, refuse or recycling centers, commercial feedlots, livestock auction markets, flea markets, kennels, landfills or scrap and salvage services.

Robertson did not know if the board planned to take any action on the agreement following its discussion on Thursday.