North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

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October 3, 2011

Gardendale pair trying to kill jail plan

GARDENDALE — Two Gardendale residents are leading an effort to protest the placement of a jail in their neighborhood.

Allen Hutchins and William Smith both live in the neighborhood behind the former Food World grocery store, where the Gardendale City Council voted last week to relocate the police department, jail and court.

The city has not yet purchased the property; the council voted to on Sept. 19 to put a contract on the building for $550,000, and, if it goes through, to do the “due diligence” by hiring an architect to design it and by hiring a company to do an asbestos survey.

Hutchins and Smith have been going door-to-door in the residential area behind the store, gathering signatures on a petition. On Friday afternoon they had about 80 names, but were going to hit the streets again Friday evening and today to knock on more doors.

When they visited with residents last week, the men said most of their neighbors were shocked that the city was considering moving the jail to their area. They had not heard about it until Hutchins and Smith informed them.

“A lot of them said they would move if the jail is moved there,” Smith said.

The fact that no one knew was also an issue for the men; they said the city should have informed the residents and given them a chance to voice their opinions.

“We just feel like we weren’t given a chance,” said Smith.

“It’s kind of like a thief in the night,” Hutchins added. “I love to see progress and I know they need a jail facility, but not in an area populated by so many houses.”

Gardendale Mayor Othell Phillips said the city council was not being secretive about putting a contract on the building; he said the council discussed the possibly of purchasing the former store in two open council meetings prior to Sept. 19.

Phillips also said the current jail is near a subdivision that contains garden homes with a large number of senior citizens living there. The jail and police department is also near the Gardendale First Baptist Church daycare.

“The location currently has been here for 50 years,” Phillips said. “We haven’t had an issue in those 50 years and I don’t foresee an issue (in the new location).”

He added that the jail houses only individuals who are serving time for misdemeanor charges; there are no felons in the city jail. He said the new jail would also not house felons.

However, Smith and Hutchins said there is always the possibility of an inmate escaping.

They also fear that having a jail nearby will possibly lower their home values.

“The economy has done enough to us,” Hutchins said. “The economy will eventually come back up, but a jail is forever.”

One of the Smith and Hutchins’ largest issues is that they have not had a chance to voice their opinions about the jail.

But they will get their chance.

Phillips said when it is time to rezone the building from commercial use to institutional, there will be a public hearing.

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