Windsor considers opposing correctional center

Published 11:10 am Wednesday, September 26, 2018

At the request of a majority of the members of Windsor’s Town Council, Town Manager Michael Stallings has begun drafting a letter in opposition to state and county plans to establish a juvenile correctional center in the undeveloped third phase of Isle of Wight County’s Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park.

The proposed 60-bed, school campus-style facility would house Hampton Roads area juveniles and young adults ages 14-21 convicted of crimes ranging from misdemeanor drug offenses to sexual abuse and murder. The county has identified two potential sites within the intermodal park: one off of Walters Highway and another off of Buckhorn Drive.

The county is focusing on the Walters Highway site as its primary choice. Both sites are near Windsor’s incorporated borders. All land in the intermodal park is owned by the county’s Economic Development Authority, and to-date, that board has made no decision to transfer ownership of any parcels to the state.

“When this was presented to council back in January, it was presented with the understanding that the county would put in $500,000 and the site for this center down on [Route] 258, with the understanding that the state would put in utility lines from Windsor down to Phase III of the intermodal park,” said Mayor Carita Richardson.

Richardson and other members of the council had initially sent a letter of support for the project to the county and state, which she said had been done based on the council’s belief that the presence of utilities would spur further economic development in the park and potentially help grow the town’s and county’s tax base. However, a recent report by Kimley-Horn, the consulting firm the county hired to conduct an environmental evaluation the third phase of the park, revealed the likely presence of wetlands throughout most of the undeveloped land.

As a result of this new information, Richardson and other members of the council are now questioning whether any businesses other than the correctional center would be interested in the park, and whether the Army Corps of Engineers would even allow any future development.

“The original plan was to build a road from 258 to the other side,” Richardson said. “That’s all wetlands. The Army Corps of Engineers, in my experience, they will never allow that.”

Councilwoman Patty Flemming added that she was concerned the county would be required to spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars for wetlands mitigation to make the site viable for the state. The Corps of Engineers requires that at least two acres of wetlands be preserved for every acre of wetlands disturbed. Preserving an acre of wetlands carries a cost of approximately $20,000 for a total of $40,000 per acre disturbed.

Councilman N. Macon Edwards III questioned whether sending a letter opposing the plans for the correctional center would make it seem like the council was reversing its earlier position of support. He also questioned whether now was the right time to state an official position on the matter when the county and state had yet to come to an agreement on a specific site. However, Richardson reiterated that the initial letter of support the council had sent was based on the information it had available at the time, which included plans to develop Phase III of the intermodal park.

“That has all changed and the letter would say that is why we don’t think it’s viable,” Richardson said.

Vice Mayor Durwood Scott said he did not believe the presence of the correctional center would do much for bringing business to the town’s restaurants, arguing that those who work at or visit the facility would likely eat in its cafeteria. He also agreed that the issue with wetlands would likely prohibit any further use of the utilities the state puts in for the center.

He asked, “If the [government’s] not going to let you build on this, why spend all this money to build something that’s not going to bring in tax revenue?”

The correctional center, if constructed, would be exempt under state law from having to pay either Windsor or the county any local taxes.

The council ultimately voted 5-1 to proceed with drafting a letter of opposition. Edwards was the dissenting vote.