By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FAIRFIELD - In a surprise move late Monday, City Council voted 4-3 to relocate the justice center onto land the city owns that formerly held a Kroger shopping plaza instead of continuing to study other options.
The 8.5-acre parcel at Pleasant Avenue and Wessel Drive is near the Fairfield Municipal Building and just outside Village Green, the new downtown.
The city needs about 5.5 acres for the justice center. The rest of the land at the Kroger parcel will be considered for development of office and retail space.
The issue has been the focus of much debate recently in Fairfield. The current justice facility holds the city's courts and police department in a former restaurant site on Ohio 4. But it has grown so overcrowded 45 male officers must share a single restroom and citizens at times must be interviewed in the parking lot for privacy.
"The people that are suffering are the people at the justice center right now," Councilman Steve Miller said. "We've got to come together. We've got to figure out what we're going to do and get it done. Some of these people work in conditions that none of us would want to work in."
While council had set a Sept. 1 deadline to decide where to place the new justice center, most agreed Monday continuing to discuss the decision was futile, particularly since most want it to go at the old Kroger site and expanding the justice center at its current location isn't feasible.
The abrupt decision came Monday as council discussed - and ultimately disagreed upon - consulting firms.
They are considering hiring a consultant to help them make the decision where to place the justice center by doing a market feasibility study of the former Kroger plaza, and the other areas of downtown, including Village Green and Sandy Lane.
But Councilman Mark Scharringhausen said Monday the decision where to place the center should be made now so the market study can incorporate that and focus on other areas downtown. It's also financially smart, he stressed, to move the justice center onto a piece of land the city already owns.
The city paid $2.8 million for the former Kroger site last year and plans to raze the plaza this summer.
"If there are four votes to put it there and that's not going to be moved by necessarily anything that comes back from a marketing study, then why not just make that decision, accept the fallout that comes with it now and start planning the rest of the downtown?" Scharringhausen said.
Three council members, Jill Kinder, Michael Snyder and Howard Dirksen, disagreed, saying the city should continue investigating other parcels.
Kinder in particular has been opposed to placing the city's courts and police department so close to Village Green, which holds a park, the public library, offices, restaurants and shopping.
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