Proponents of a new county jail to house misdemeanor offenders have suffered a setback.
The South Salt Lake Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted Thursday night to recommend that the City Council deny Salt Lake County's request for a conditional-use permit to build a 350-bed minimum security jail at 33rd South next to the Jordan River.Dozens of residents and business owners near the proposed site have voiced opposition, and those attending Thursday's public hearing applauded the commission's decision.
"This facility would be a shame in our community, instead of something that people could and should be proud of," said Vince Julian, a property and business owner.
Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom said he did not expect such a decision from the commission.
"It's like your client just got the death penalty," he said. "We addressed all of the issues and bent over backward to accommodate the panel and answer their questions. I'm frankly very surprised."
Commission Chairman Lyle Hereth said public opposition was not the only reason for the rejection.
The county, using federal and local money, originally purchased the oxbow property in 1972 with the intention of building a park and developing the parkway there. The property is currently zoned for agricultural use, but the commission recently learned the federal government has since lifted any restrictions for that property's use.
"That changed our whole understanding of that area," he said. "We need the time to study that area and consider the best zoning."
But Hereth did not rule out the possibility of approval for a jail site somewhere else in South Salt Lake.
"We are not conceptually opposed to a misdemeanor facility inside the city of South Salt Lake. We recognize the need for such facilities . . . and they have a right to be within our city," he said.
"There were hours and hours of discussion. No, it was not easy (to reach the decision)," he said.
Commission members received letters, petitions and pleas from the nearly 100 residents at Thursday's meeting - the second public hearing to discuss the matter. Nearly everyone agreed that the jail did not be long in their neighborhood.
"It's not fair that we should have to have these people for my neighbors that I don't want for my neighbors," said Ruth Yates, a resident in the area. "I can't afford to move because of low appraisals."
Yocom said the county will await the City Council's decision on the matter before deciding what action it will take next. While the council will take the recommendation to deny approval for the jail site under advisement, it has the final say on the issue and is expected to vote during its next meeting, March 22.
"I have no idea what the City Council will do," Hereth said.
Salt Lake County officials contend an additional jail is essential to hold the growing number of convicted misdemeanor offenders such as drunken drivers, shoplifters and bad-check writers. Officers have continually been forced to cite and release such offenders who are regularly turned away at the county jail.
Sheriff Pete Hayward ordered the jail population held at 550 inmates to prevent lawsuits stemming from overcrowding.