Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Covington jail likely on hold

Businesses push new site in Peaselburg

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Following a vociferous public campaign led by downtown Covington businesses and residents, the Kenton Fiscal Court is expected to delay plans for a controversial downtown jail expansion for 30 days to consider a new site. That move, in turn, has the nearby Peaselburg neighborhood concerned.

        At tonight's meeting, Fiscal Court members will look at a suggestion to include the jail in a $30 million county government center proposed for the site of the former Jefferson Street/Interstate-75 interchange.

        The fiscal court will consider the moratorium on plans to expand the current jail when it meets at 7 tonight at the Covington city building, 638 Madison Ave.

        Sue Sampson, a member of a group of 150 Covington residents and business owners that opposes expanding the jail, said her group is “cautiously optimistic,” but is still encouraging anyone who opposes expansion of the jail near Covington's riverfront to attend tonight's meeting.

        “I think that the opposition from the businesses and from the neighborhoods got the fiscal court thinking that they ought to look around and see if there were any other options,” Ms. Sampson said. “But until their decision is final, our group still plans to stay active. We're cautiously optimistic, and hope that this latest site works out.”

        The outcry against the expansion, which would enlarge the 262-capacity jail to better accommodate a growing prisoner population and meet state standards, has included threats of a class action lawsuit, the placement of dummies dressed in prison garb on a nearby restaurant, and dozens of e-mails from downtown residents and business owners.

        Restaurateurs, including partners or owners of Sonoma, Scaleas Italian Market and Ristorante, and Jack Quinn's Irish Ale House — all within blocks of the jail — have led the effort against expansion, arguing a larger jail near Covington's riverfront would hinder development.

        Opponents say expansion of the jail is a short-term plan that would keep patrons away from the many Covington restaurants near the Ohio River and businesses away from the city.

        Southbank Partners Inc., a development group, has proposed building the county jail on a site east of Interstate 75, off Hewson Avenue, and south of the 12th Street exit in Covington. The knoll encompasses more than 10 acres owned by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

        Because the land is owned by the state, it would be relatively inexpensive to acquire, said Wally Pagan, executive director of Southbank Partners. He added the number of homes to be demolished also would be minimal, and the plan would include parks and green space.

        The only way in and out of the government center would be via a new access road parallel to the 12th Street exit that would require taking Jess 'n' Sons Towing Service on 12th Street, Mr. Pagan said.

        Neither the Covington nor Kenton County governments have endorsed the 12th Street site proposed by Southbank.

        But while the four fiscal court members say they support the expansion and renovation of the jail at 303 Court St., all say they are willing to at least consider Southbank's proposal.

        “A good leader is always willing to listen to other pos sibilities,” said Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black. “But Covington must be on board. The mayor and Covington City Commission have to be willing to stand behind this site.”

        Covington Mayor Butch Callery said the 12th Street site sounds promising, but he added city officials first want to hear what the residents of Covington's Peaselburg neighborhood think about it.

        “We need to adopt an open approach where the citizens can talk about it and have their say before a decision is made,” Mr. Callery said.

        Susan Ham, chairwoman of the Friends of Peaselburg Neighborhood Association, said residents she's talked to are unhappy with the latest proposed jail site.

        “I think the biggest thing we're worried about is destroying the tranquility of the neighborhood,” Ms. Ham said.

        Southbank Partners has called a meeting for Thursdayto discuss details of its proposal and find out what the public thinks about it. The meeting will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at First District School, Sixth Street and Scott Boulevard.

        “Even if people can't come to this meeting, we want to know what they think about the (12th Street) site,” Mr. Pagan said. “Within the next week, we're asking people to send their written comments to Southbank Partners at 421 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky. 41071.”

        For years, Kenton County officials have grappled with the problem of where to build a jail to replace its crowded detention center.

        Two previous suburban sites were considered last year, but were ruled out after residents spoke out against them.


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