Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Fairfield sets deadline on justice center plan

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FAIRFIELD - City leaders set a September deadline Monday to decide whether to expand the justice center or build a new one - and to solve the debate over where it should go.

"I am convinced no matter where we put it there are going to be people who are against it," Fairfield Councilman Jeffrey Holtegel said. "I want to do it in this council. (Delaying it) would be a disservice to the voters. We brought it to this point. We need to finish it."

The Fairfield Justice Center is crowded in its current quarters, a former restaurant site on Ohio 4.

About 45 male officers must share a single restroom and citizens at times must be interviewed in the parking lot for privacy.

If the center cannot be expanded, City Council has narrowed the possible relocations to 10 other parcels. The city already owns one likely location - the former Kroger shopping plaza at Wessel Drive and Pleasant Avenue, across from the Fairfield Municipal Building.

The city paid $2.8 million for the corner parcel last year and plans to raze the plaza this summer.

But in recent months, city leaders and citizens have butted heads over placing the justice center there. Some feel it would be smart financially; purchasing another site is estimated to cost $1.5 to $2 million.

Others, however, argue that putting the city's courts and police department downtown would clash with Fairfield's increasingly upscale atmosphere there with Village Green now nearby.

Resident Keith Davis told council on Monday he was relieved it was exploring other locations besides one so close to Village Green, Fairfield's new downtown with a mix of stores and businesses.

"It is wise to move the courts away from the family-friendly area downtown," Davis said.

"A majority of the problems are caused by outsiders, not Fairfield residents."

Other locations discussed Monday include a 21-acre site at Ohio Bypass 4 and Ohio 4, a 7-acre parcel on Boymel Drive and 6 acres on Ohio 4 near Production Drive.

To help council decide the best place for the center, the city is paying for a market feasibility study of the Kroger site and the other quadrants of the downtown including Village Green and Sandy Lane. It is not known when that study will be complete, but officials hope it won't take longer than six weeks.

To fund expansion of the justice center or building a new, $10 million one while the city also builds a community center, Fairfield voters in November approved an income tax reallocation.

The reallocation shifts one-tenth of 1 percent - or about $1.2 million a year - from the city's street improvement fund into the general fund.

It does not entail any increase in taxes and won't take effect until early 2004.

In the meantime, the city will break ground this fall on the $9.6 million community center, slated to open as the crown jewel of Village Green in 2005.

The 45,000-square-foot brick building will feature a 250-seat theater, senior activity center with billiards, arts and crafts rooms, children's activity area, classrooms, dance and fitness studio and administrative space.

It also will house a large multipurpose room and balcony overlooking Village Green, which already holds the Lane Public Library, an amphitheater and shopping. A sit-down restaurant and coffee house also recently opened.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com

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