SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) — Opponents to the proposed location for Johnston County’s new jail hope Smithfield will follow Selma’s lead in opposing of the site.
The Selma council formally announced Tuesday its opposition to the county commission’s plans for a public safety complex on Buffalo Road.RELATED:Selma Town Council opposes jail near schools, aquatics center
The land is in between the city limits of Selma and Smithfield, and is very close to Smithfield-Selma High School, Smithfield Middle School and Neuse Charter School.
The town’s recreation center is closer to the planned jail site than the schools.
“You have approximately 1,000 children within about a half mile of it. My personal concern in this is that it removes the family ambiance of Smithfield. It’s located in area that would be a prime area for families to move in,” Suzy Augustyn said.
“We’re not against it just for the reason of being against it. It’s not ‘Not in my backyard.’ That’s not the issue. There is other land available right in town that would work very well,” Augustyn said.
Augustyn is among a group of people collecting signatures on a petition to submit to the Smithfield Town Council and Johnston County Board of Commissioners which opposes the proposed jail plans.
The petitioners want Smithfield to deny a zoning variance that could allow the jail’s construction in an area currently zoned as residential land.
The current jail is at the courthouse in downtown Smithfield. It has a maximum capacity of just under 200, but at one point in the summer of 2016, Johnston County had nearly 300 inmates.
A few dozen had to be housed at jails in neighboring counties. The county continues to pay for some female inmates to stay elsewhere as they serve sentences or await trial.
“I’m in great support of the sheriff and the sheriff’s department and their need for more jail space, an expansion, it’s something that they have to do, but there’s a better place. There has to be a better place,” Paul Worley said.
He lives less than a mile away from the Buffalo Road site. Worley said he is not worried about an inmate escaping and coming through his neighborhood, but he believes a jail in the area would significantly impact property values.
The current chairman of Smithfield’s Board of Adjustments and a former member of the town’s zoning board, Worley said he is not ready to give up on the town’s potential, and to see more homeowners in the area near the schools and recreation center.
“It comes down to quality of life and seeing the area thrive and grow. I would say that we would seriously have to look at moving and planning to finish out our lives somewhere else and at the end of the day, if that’s what we have to do, then that’s what we have to do,” he said.
Worley’s name is among the hundreds of signatures on the petition to the Smithfield Council. The Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce came out against the proposed jail location in December.
Petitioners view the Selma Council’s opposition as a positive first step.
“I’m very proud of Selma. I think it’s wonderful that they stepped up to the plate and took a stand,” Augustyn said.
Worley said he is trying to be encouraged by the proclamation from the neighboring town.
“I was very pleased and excited that the leadership in Selma actually came out and supported us in Smithfield, and actually had a very concrete resolution, which is something our council hasn’t done,” Worley said.
“I understand they feel like they need to take a step back for legal issues,” he said.
The Smithfield Council recently sent a letter to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners which requested a meeting to discuss the jail.
However, a council member said Saturday that a date has not been set for the meeting.
Augustyn said she hopes the council and commission will communicate not only with each other, but with the community about where things stand. She will continue to collect signatures for the petition.
Worley said he hopes the elected leaders will not rush to a decision.
“It’s not an opportunity that suddenly is going to bring 100 jobs to the area or 200. They’re going to be here anyway. It’s not like there is a sense of urgency to acquire property and take advantage of a new development or a new industry that’s going to create thousands of jobs, it’s something that’s a necessity of the county,” Worley said.
“Why can’t there be a step back? Make sure the right location is taken. Make sure that all areas of the county are considered and try to do something that favors Smithfield and its positive growth rather than saddling us with more government taxpayer financed growth of government that really doesn’t add to the tax rolls.”