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New commissioners jump into debate on Cabarrus jail project

By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

CONCORD — Grace Mynatt, sworn in as a new Cabarrus County commissioner only a short time earlier, wasted no time Monday night diving into one of the county’s hotter topics — a new jail and sheriff’s office.

She suggested that a committee be formed to explore more options, during coming months when the project will be delayed because of a court appeal.

One of those options, Mynatt said, might be moving the six-story, 480-bed resident tower portion of the project to an industrial section of the city away from the downtown.

Fellow Commissioner Coy Privette agreed with Mynatt, noting the six to 18 months it could take for the N.C. Court of Appeals to act on a residents’ group’s case against the city of Concord.

In the end Monday night, commissioners decided that Mynatt and Vice Chairman Joni Juba should discuss a committee’s possible makeup and report back to the board.

But Juba, Chairman Bob Carruth and newly elected Commissioner Jay White showed some reservations about looking at the $100 million sheriff’s/jail project again.

Juba said she’s weary from all the committees and meetings that have looked at the jail project just during her years on the board.

“I’m tired, and I need to think about it,” she said after Mynatt proposed that she serve on a new committee.

Carruth said the jail project came down to a fundamental decision as to where government buildings should be — in the downtown or somewhere else in the county.

Is Concord supposed to be a “mixed village,” as Mynatt might have suggested, or should it be the seat for county government and its buildings?

Carruth said he thought commissioners and the community answered that question as far back as 2002-2003.

The jail needs to be close to the courthouse to limit the distance prisoners have to travel for their hearings and trials, Carruth said. He also noted that nothing negative about the current plans was raised until the residents’ lawsuit in late 2005.

Carruth said he would hate to go through the whole city approval process again for placing a jail on an industrial site and essentially face starting over.

He said that the frustration level about the whole project is “at an all-time high.” He also noted that the county already has spent close to $8 million on the plans and early construction.

“It has been a brutal process,” Carruth said.

White asked what it would cost the county per month not to build anything. Considering it’s a $100 million project, Scott Pyle said, delays may cost $800,000 to $1 million a month.

Pyle, a senior estimator for Turner Construction, based his figures on an estimated 10 percent increase in construction costs during an extended delay.

Mynatt said Concord residents who would be neighbors to the project had no idea until late 2005 of the enormity of the buildings, based on what they were shown and told at previous meetings.

Even if the residential tower moved, she added, the county is not losing the value of all of its plans. She pushed commissioners to reexamine the pros, cons and costs of all options.

“You can’t make these decisions on half information,” she said.

The county wants to build a a new administrative office for the sheriff, a 96-bed annex and a 480-bed jail tower in the downtown. Since this spring, the project’s costs have increased from $75 million to $101 million.

The residents’ suit, brought in May, contested the city’s approval of a conditional-use permit that allowed construction to start on the annex and preliminary work to prepare the rest of the site.

When a Superior Court judge ruled in the city’s favor in September, the residents’ group appealed.

Mynatt, who had been a member of the Cabarrus County Board of Education, said she avoided weighing in on the jail issue until now because she was hoping it would be decided by the time she was sworn in.

She said she didn’t want to embroil the school board in the controversy.

Mynatt acknowledged that she has a daughter who lives in the neighborhood next to the proposed jail tower. She will view the tower from the master bedroom of her home if the project is built as proposed, Mynatt said.

Her daughter has not be involved in the lawsuit or its funding but she has supported the cause, Mynatt added.

“No one wants a jail outside their windows,” she said.

Mynatt proposed as one option that the county continue with the administrative building and annex but move the residential tower to an industrial site, freeing up 6 acres that could be used for commercial and residential development. Such a mixed development also would provide tax-paying properties and revitalize an area of Corbin Avenue, she said.

She originally proposed a committee made up of a member from the commissioners (Juba), Concord City Council, the plaintiffs’ group, the sheriff, Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Commission and downtown preservation groups.

But other commissioners asked whether representatives from the plaintiffs and the city could serve on the committee together because of the pending legal appeal.

Mynatt, Privette and White were sworn in to four-year terms Monday night after their election victories in November. Privette already had been on the board.

White and Mynatt replace Carolyn Carpenter and Robert Freeman.

The new board re-elected Carruth and Juba as chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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