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Town Council opposed to correctional center

By Stephen Faleski

The Tidewater News

Windsor’s Town Council remains on record as opposed to Isle of Wight County’s plans to bring a 60-bed, state-run juvenile correctional center to a proposed third phase of its Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, which would be located about one mile south of the town’s border.

Last Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to reaffirm the town’s position against the proposed facility. The previous Town Council, under then-mayor Carita Richardson, had first taken this position in a 5-1 vote in September 2018, sending a memorandum to the county’s Economic Development Authority that urged the EDA not to transfer any intermodal park land to either the county or the state for the project.

The EDA, however, voted 5-2 in January to transfer the land to the county.

On Thursday, the town sent a letter to the county’s Board of Supervisors informing them of the town’s continued opposition. Mayor Glyn Willis also offered — and the council agreed — that he be the one to speak on behalf of the council during the county’s public hearing, which is scheduled for this Thursday — one month prior to the board’s final vote on whether to transfer land to the state for the project. The Town Council held its own town hall meeting on the matter on Monday in the Windsor Town Center.

As for his personal views on the correctional center, the mayor said, “I’m mixed on the facility overall, but I think the process smells very bad.”

Vice Mayor Durwood Scott cautioned that he felt the town should proceed carefully when voicing opposition to the county’s plans, as the town works with and depends on the county government in several areas. However, he said, the town still needs to make the opinions of its residents known.

Scott also discussed the timeline of events that led the previous Town Council to first support the facility but later oppose it.

The vice mayor said that when he, Town Manager Michael Stallings and then-mayor Carita Richardson were first invited by the county’s Board of Supervisors to participate in preliminary, closed-session discussions regarding plans for a correctional center, the county government had presented numerous positives. These included bringing 240 jobs to the Windsor area, new people to the town who would patronize Windsor’s businesses, and an opportunity for the town to develop its U.S. Route 258 corridor from the railroad tracks to its southern border due to a new water and sewer main that would serve the facility.

In April 2018, the county asked the town — and the council agreed — to send a letter to Delegate Emily Brewer (R-64) urging the General Assembly to keep funding for the proposed facility in its budget.

However, when the Town Council later learned of the discovery of wetlands throughout much of the proposed third phase of the intermodal park, they began questioning whether any additional development along the Walters Highway corridor could actually occur, Scott explained. This is what prompted the first vote against the project and subsequent memo to the EDA.

“That’s why it looked like the town was flip-flopping,” Scott said.

The wetlands concerns specific to the roughly 20-acre parcel on Walters Highway the county has identified as its preferred location for the correctional center have since been resolved, with the county receiving a new wetlands determination from the Army Corps of Engineers in late December. This identified the 20-acre parcel and one adjacent 19.5-acre parcel as being mostly non-wetlands.

During citizens’ time at last Tuesday’s council meeting, seven Isle of Wight County resident spoke in opposition to the correctional center.

Robert Hodges, who lives by DeWitt’s Automotive outside of town, said, “I don’t want to raise my kids across the street from a prison.”

Louise Bennett of Spivey Town Road, also outside of town, said she lives within a mile of the proposed facility and would not feel comfortable letting her grandchildren play outside if the correctional center is built.

“I don’t want to have to bring them up with fear that if one person does escape,” she said.

However, when the mayor asked if anyone in the audience was in favor of the correctional center, one person did raise his hand. This was Ruben Askew of Windsor.

Speaking on Thursday as to why he supported plans for the facility, Askew said that he believed the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice’s plan to build smaller, school campus-style facilities could help reduce recidivism among the youth of Hampton Roads who are placed in the department’s custody. He added that he did not feel the department’s existing Bon Air facility was unsafe for Chesterfield County residents, and that the proposed facility outside of Windsor could bring jobs and new residents to the town.

“I’d rather it [Windsor] be a community where people actually live here and work here, not a bedroom community,” Askew said.

The Isle of Wight Citizens’ Association and Carrollton Civic League both have supported the establishment of the facility. They provided a list of 30 reasons, namely that it could provide employment to local residents, reduce tax pressure on private citizens and raise the median income.