For the most part, Smithfield’s elected leaders are choosing to say nothing about the county’s plans to build a jail near Community Park, the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center and three schools.
Mayor Andy Moore and many council members did not return phone calls or reply to email messages seeking comment.
Councilman Roger Wood said he wouldn’t weigh in just yet because he didn’t feel well informed about the county’s plans. Councilman Emery Ashley said that because the town council would have to say yes or no to a county rezoning request, he was unwilling to comment on a potential quasi-judicial matter.
But Councilman Perry Harris was willing to offer his two cents’ worth.
“The safety issues I have heard are understandable,” he said.
But Harris noted that the county jail has been in downtown Smithfield for decades without incident. “My church shares the parking lot with the courthouse/jail, and how many safety issues have we had in the past 100 years or however long the jail has been downtown?” he asked.
If anything, Harris thinks a public-safety complex on Booker Dairy would make the area safer for residents, students and park users. “I would think that this facility would make the area much safer for all involved,” he said.
Harris called the project “long overdue” and said the alternative, using county-owned land near the landfill, would not be good for Smithfield.
“Do we really want county offices moving out of Smithfield? Would it be the first steps to losing more in Smithfield?” he asked. “In the end, this is a county decision.”
Rick Childrey, president of the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s Economic Development Committee has some concerns about the proposed spot for the new jail.
“We agree with the county that growth will be coming to that area due in part to the Novo Nordisk and Grifols expansions,” Childrey said.
Years ago, the chamber identified the U.S. 70 corridor as Smithfield and Selma’s “new front door,” Childrey said. It studied the area around Buffalo and Booker Dairy roads and crafted a plan for residential and commercial development.
“The proposed site for the public-safety center is adjacent to that study area and could be good land for future residential growth,” Childrey said. “It backs up to the Neuse River and has good proximity to schools, shopping and recreation.”
With news that U.S. 70 will eventually become Interstate 42, Buffalo Road will become a major interchange on that highway, and properties along Buffalo Road would “become valuable for residential and commercial growth” – so long as they’re available, Childrey said.
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett