Thursday, October 07, 1999

Elsmere fumes at jail-site choice


Neighbors sure that clout counted

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ELSMERE — There are some lucky kids living in a home at the intersection of Garvey, Buffington and Autumn roads in this Kenton County suburb.

        From a backyard treehouse they'll have a good view of “the prison” that Kenton Fiscal Court has decided to build on an expansive wooded lot across from their home.

        Prison. That's what the folks in the subdivisions near the land are calling the planned county jail. They're also going to be calling it “neighbor.”

        There is no doubt that sooner or later, the vacant 55-acre site slated for the jail/prison would be developed. Since virtually every other piece of green space in Northern Kentucky is either owned or coveted by a developer, why should this one be different?

        But a lot residents in the neighborhoods that sit just across Garvey from the land would rather see an industrial warehouse or plant built there. That's what's on the other side of the lot — the Northern Kentucky Industrial Park.

        It's a measure of how badly Elsmere residents don't want a jail that they would welcome a factory instead. It's not much of a choice. Then again, they didn't have a choice.

        Fiscal Court took care of that by voting to build the jail in Elsmere instead of Edgewood. Whoops, not really Edgewood — just near Edgewood.

        Actually, the process to select a location for the much-loathed project came down to two sites, Elsmere and land on 3L Highway in Covington that abuts Interstate 275 and sits about a mile down Dudley Pike from subdivisions and neighborhoods in Edgewood.

        Edgewood fought the Covington site like Patton (George, not Paul) battled the Nazis. They waged the good fight, with rallies, signs, pressure on the fiscal court, a media campaign, facts and hype.

        Edgewood is also a big Republican voting bloc in local elections — guess which party all four members of the fiscal court belong to? — and a community of upscale neighborhoods.

        Elsmere isn't. It is working-class, with nice but modest homes. It doesn't have political clout. What it has is a jail coming to a neighborhood near you.

        To hear members of fiscal court tell it, the influence and affluence of Edgewood had nothing to do with where the jail will be built. The Elsmere site is the best place to build, they say, because the 3L site would be too expensive to develop.

        Elsmere residents question the fiscal court's motives and have implied Elsmere was chosen because Edgewood is richer and has more political connections.

        Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd claims the income levels of residents in the two cities was not a factor in the decision-making process. He said such talk is a “fabrication created by those in the media.”

        With all due respect, Mr. Murgatroyd, Neva Collins does not believe you.

        “We got majorly screwed,” said Mrs. Collins, a nurse who along with her husband, Andy, is raising two sons in Turkeyfoot Acres, one of the neighborhoods across from the jail site.

        “Edgewood doesn't even have any homes anywhere near the 3L site when compared to Elsmere. There are people here who will probably be able to see the jail through their windows. This stinks.”

        Almost 2,000 people have signed petitions opposing the fiscal court's decision. Residents are also contemplating a lawsuit.

        And they've placed a sign on the site that takes a big swipe at the fiscal court and its perceived ties to Edgewood.

        It reads, “Proposed site for the Kenton County Jail forced on you by Edgewood Fiscal Court.”

        Mr. Murgatroyd said that “regardless of public opinion as to the accuracy of our actions, at least no one can accuse Fiscal Court of lacking the courage to make a decision.”

        No, Elsmere doesn't blame the court for making a decision, just for the decision it made.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581, or 502-875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at crowleys@cinci.infi.net

       



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