Work release center receives final approval

A county project to build a work release center in Seymour has jumped its final hurdle.

Last week, the Seymour Board of Zoning Appeals gave its stamp of approval on a request from developer Andy Royalty for a land use variance to allow for the construction of the corrections facility on two lots in the 300 block of Dupont Drive.

The property, owned by Royalty, is zoned C-5 for commercial development. The area also is the location of the Jackson County Learning Center, Christopher and Associates Evaluation and Counseling Center Inc. and a future homeless shelter.

The five-member BZA voted unanimously to grant the variance with several conditions recommended by the city plan commission. As part of the project, Royalty must provide handicapped-accessible sidewalks from U.S. 50 back to the development, a green buffer between the learning center and the work release center and lighted signage on the building.

No one from the public spoke against the project.

Board member Dave Eggers questioned whether the project had gone out for public bid and if it was being funded through a typical bond process.

“These are questions that were brought to me by people in the community,” he said.

County officials said a request for proposals and qualifications was publicly advertised, and Royalty was the only one who responded. That information was reviewed by the state, but official bids have not yet been submitted.

The project is estimated to cost around $6 million and is being funded by Jackson County, Jennings County and the Seymour Redevelopment Commission over a 20-year period.

The work release center will house up to 150 nonviolent, low-level male and female offenders from Jackson and Jennings counties and will serve as a bridge between jail and home detention, said J.L. Brewer, director of Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections.

Most of those who will qualify for work release are people who have gotten in trouble because of drug use, Brewer added.

Those sentenced to work release will live at the facility but be allowed to leave to work. While at the facility, they will receive addiction counseling and mental health services, he said.

“There is a need to be able to keep a better eye on these folks than home detention provides,” Brewer said. “It’s a better environment for them to live under our roof.”

Jackson Circuit Court Judge Rick Poynter said the work release center will keep people away from bad influences.

“Locking people up in jail doesn’t change their behavior,” he said. “This program will save lives and change lives.”

The program also will benefit employers struggling to find workers because of the county’s low unemployment rate.

Attorney Jeff Lorenzo, who spoke on behalf of Royalty, said the primary driver for the location is jobs.

“The jobs are here,” he said. “It’s the primary location for industries. If the jobs were in Medora or Crothersville, we would be wanting to build it there.”

Board member Jim Myers said the variance request met all of the board’s criteria for approval, but he didn’t think the project actually needed a variance to be built.

“I don’t think it’s that far of a reach from C-5 zoning,” he said.

City attorney Christina Engleking agreed, saying she didn’t see a legal need for a variance.

Lorenzo said the city’s previous attorney believed the variance was needed.

“We would prefer to have buy-in from the city,” Lorenzo said.