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Concerned landowners attend meeting about planned new Orange County jail

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) -- Plans for a new detention center in Orange County are getting pushback from hundreds of people.

So Tuesday night county officials held a public information session to answer questions about the proposed facility.

Lisa Hall was one of several landowners who attended the meeting. The 21 acres the county wants to develop back up directly to her property.

"This has been a family farm for over 100 years, so it's heartbreaking to see this proposed in your backyard," said Hall.

Hall's cousin Michelle O'Neal fears the development would be detrimental to the health of the animals on her farm.

"It's going to be like a full moon night every night," said O'Neal.

She's collected 850 signatures for a petition opposing the development.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said the current facility is old and at "risk of being declared out of compliance."

Built in 1925, it initially housed 34 inmates. It currently can hold 129 inmates.

The county says the most recent renovation was in the mid-1990s, and the building's footprint won't allow for another expansion.

"The laundry facilities are not adequate, the kitchen facilities are not adequate, the medical facilities are not adequate. So there's a lot of reasons that the county needs a new detention center," said Todd McGee, communications manager for Orange County.

McGee says the new facility would be larger and more modern, with the ability for video conferencing so inmates wouldn't have to be taken to court as often.

It would also be home to the Environmental and Agricultural Center, the office space for several county departments such as public works. The current facility is in an old grocery store.

Officials say a new detention center has been in the works for years, but negotiations with the state for property near the intersection of N.C. 86 and I-85 in Hillsborough fell through. So the county started looking elsewhere.

McGee says they came up with four options, and the 21 acres along Highway 70 and Cornelius Street are the best option. And, he says the two women who own the land are open to selling it to the county.

"It's close to the courthouse so the transport of inmates back and forth won't be a problem. There are no facilities or houses on the land now that would have to be taken care of," he said.

He adds the funding would fall within an already approved Capital Investment Plan, and that water and sewer services are adjacent to the land.

During Tuesday's landowners, and at least one developer was worried about how property values would be impacted. Other wondered why the current jail couldn't be renovated.

"That would have cost about an extra $5.5 million in terms of deconstruction of the current facility and then housing the inmates elsewhere while the construction was going on," said McGee.

He added that there is currently no other space in downtown Hillsborough available.

Next week, the proposal goes before Hillsborough officials who have to approve the land use application.

A final decision is expected by Orange County's Board of County Commissioners in April.

McGee says if approved and once contracts are put out, construction could begin next year.

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