A State Department of Corrections task force is considering the possibility of locating a prison halfway house in Orem, but if it happens it won't be in the near future.
Ed Stout, director of developmental services, said corrections officials have confirmed that they are looking at Orem as a possible future site for a halfway house, but he said the task force is looking at several locations south of Salt Lake City. He said there are no current plans or funding to build the halfway house and he does not think it will happen in the next 10 years.Stout said the task force is in its earlier stages and is just beginning to gather information from cities in case the need for another halfway house arises. In fact, Stout said, the task force has only met once. An official from the task force recently contacted Mayor S. Blaine Willes and requested Orem's feedback in case the city is someday chosen.
"They told me that they want the cities' input and would work closely with the communities in choosing a site," Stout said.
However, because of their size, either Orem or Provo would be a likely choice, Stout said. Currently, all the state's halfway houses are located in Salt Lake City and Ogden.
The City Council said the city is not trying to attract a halfway house but wants to be prepared in case the state decides one should be located in Orem. If state officials decided to locate a halfway house in Orem, the city would have a hard time stopping them.
"If I had my druthers I'd like to see it placed elsewhere," Willes said.
City Attorney Paul Johnson said the state does not have to abide by city zoning laws and does not have to have a city's permission in choosing a site. But since the task force is requesting the city's input, it would be wise to cooperate, he said. That way the city would at least have some say in where the house would be placed.
"The state is not subject to our zoning regulations, which means it behooves us to work with them," Johnson said.
Stout said no property within the city is zoned for a halfway house. The city would need to find a suitable location and make the necessary zone changes. He said the city should expect strong opposition in choosing a possible site.
"It's generally feared and generates strong feelings and opposition," Stout said. "It would probably be more acceptable to the community if it were placed away from a highly residential area."
Stout said the main factors in choosing a site for a halfway house are job possibilities and access to public transportation. He also said corrections officials like to place halfway houses close to the areas where inmates live, so that once they are rehabilitated they don't have to quit their jobs and move.
"They try to gear these toward the community's needs," Stout said.
Most council members said it would be premature for the city to start choosing sites, but believe the city should keep informed on the task force's activities and provide any helpful input.
"Otherwise, one of these days we're just going to find a halfway house located in the city," Councilman Keith Hunt said.
Willes said he believes once the task force finds funding it will choose a site for another halfway house. It's just a matter of time, he said.