Friday, October 26, 2001

Peaselburg suspects jail ploy

Kenton Co. asks state for property

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A leader in Covington's Peaselburg neighborhood thinks a judge-executive's request to have the state deed a grassy 10.5-acre site at Interstate 75 and Hewson Avenue to Kenton County is simply a move to pacify the neighborhood, before eventually building a jail there.

        “My gut instinct is the county will go ahead and put a recreational project in, then they'll eventually end up building a jail there, and the neighborhood won't have any say on it,” said Susan Ham, who chairs the Friends of Peaselburg.

        Ms. Ham was responding to a Sept. 20 letter that Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd sent to Gov. Paul Patton, asking the state to deed the Peaselburg site to the county. While an area along Pike and Washington Streets in downtown Covington has recently emerged as a leading site for a jail and county government center, the Peaselburg site has not been ruled out.

        A top county employee, however, denied there was any subterfuge involved, and said the county merely wants the land for recreational use, something the Peaselburg neighborhood has sought for years.

        In his letter to Mr. Patton, Mr. Murgatroyd wrote that it was the fiscal court's intent “to use (the Peaselburg) property for public purposes for which a long-term plan has not yet been finalized.”

        The letter did not mention the six-month public debate over the site or that it was under consideration for a jail.

        Mr. Murgatroyd later in the letter added that the county wanted “to use (the) property for recreational purposes until such time as other more appropriate uses can be established.”

        That has Ms. Ham concerned. When plans were presented last spring for a possible jail and county government center at the Peaselburg site, there had been talk of putting a park on the site too. Although residents would like to see a neighborhood park, “they don't want a jail built next to it,” Ms. Ham said.

        Mr. Murgatroyd was unavailable for comment.

        However, Scott Kimmich, Kenton County's deputy judge-executive, said that Mr. Murgatroyd's motives for acquiring the site were simply to ensure that nearby residents got the recreation that they had been seeking for years.

        “When the issue of building a jail there got shoved to the back burner, we didn't want the issue of recreation abandoned as well,” Mr. Kimmich said.

        For more than three years, Kenton County officials have studied dozens of potential jail sites in Covington and the suburbs.

        Last April, Southbank Partners, an economic development group, proposed the vacant Peaselburg area next to I-75 for a jail and county offices. However, an area along Pike and Washington streets in Covington appeared to have the backing of many city and county officials and residents, when Southbank Partners formally presented it Monday night. County officials expect to resolve where to put the county jail within weeks.

        Terri Giltner, Mr. Patton's deputy director of communications, referred any queries about the status of Mr. Murgatroyd's request to the Transportation Cabinet's District 6 office in Fort Mitchell.

        Charlie Meyers, chief district engineer for District 6, said Thursday that he had not seen the letter. However, he said that transportation officials had discussed various public and private uses of the Peaselburg site with Covington officials for years.

        Covington Mayor Butch Callery said he was mystified by the county's request because Covington officials have tried since 1997 to acquire the site for various purposes, but were delayed by inadequate road access off 12th Street.

        When Covington officials learned last week of the county's attempt to acquire the site, they sent their own letter to James Codell, secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, reaffirming the city's interest in the site, and seeking the state's help in acquiring it.

        “We were surprised to hear the county had sent the state a letter trying to acquire the site,” said Mr. Callery.

        “The county would never have known about the (Peaselburg) site, except for the jail meetings,” Mr. Callery said. “And we had mentioned that we thought there was a better use for it.”

        Mr. Kimmich said he was unaware that city officials still had an active interest in the site, until he was contacted by the media on Wednesday.

        “Certainly, if the city of Covington wants possession of that land, as long as that property is put to use in a worthwhile way, that's our objective,” Mr. Kimmich said.


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