the Salt Lake County Jail was filled. No more misdemeanor offenders would be accepted. And the night was just beginning.

Sheriff Pete Hayward last spring ordered a cap of 550 inmates at the aging county facility in part to head off lawsuits by prisoners over the crowded jail.Since then, officers routinely have cited and released misdemeanor offenders to make room for the serious criminals and those serving sentences for lesser offenses.

Salt Lake County officials contend a jail, planned at 33rd South and the Jordan River, is essential to hold the growing number of convicted misdemeanor offenders such as drunken drivers, shoplifters and bad check writers.

But that's not the way residents surrounding the proposed facility see it.

At a public hearing Wednesday night in the Redwood Multi-Purpose Center, residents said their neighborhood will end up as a playground for drug dealers and thieves.

John Cowan, owner of the Bryman School on 11th West and 33rd South, said he gave up on his former location across from the Metropolitan Hall of Justice after an officer with gun in hand ran through the school looking for a suspect.

"After 11 years of having interesting people wandering through my facility, I moved," Cowan told County Attorney David Yocom and other county officials at the meeting.

The Oxbow property has 14 residential neighbors. They contend the dormitory-style facility that could house up to 500 inmates is another assault on property values.

"Nobody wants to be neighbors to that," said one woman who was among the 20 people who attended the hearing.

But officials maintain such problems as wandering drunks won't occur at the misdemeanor offenders site, which will house only low-risk inmates who have been arrested, booked, tried and convicted.

The inmates "have to demonstrate to Pete Hayward they are fit to go to this honor farm," Yocom said. "The residents will have better police protection from sworn, uniformed deputies coming and going" from the site.

Yet the jail is years away from accepting inmates: Soil studies of the site on the Jordan River are due back in about two weeks to determine how much fill material is needed. The county still needs a conditional use permit from South Salt Lake for the facility.

And then there's financing.

County commissioners said they may have to call a special election next year for voter approval to issue a general obligation bonds - and raise taxes to pay them off - to fund construction of the minimum-security jail.

"The solution to jail overcrowding problems and to accommodate the changing jail population is the immediate construction of a minimum security jail facility away from the Metropolitan Hall of Justice Jail to house sentenced misdemeanor violators," said a report given to residents at the hearing.

But that immediate is 1990 at best, with inmates staying at the 30-acre site beginning in 1991.

The meeting was held more to get neighborhood input than to resolve anything. The plans presented were more concepts than concrete decisions. An architect and a designer will be hired next month to get the blueprint rolling.