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Thursday, June 01, 2023

County Commission opposes proposed prison

The Alachua County Commission drafted a letter officially opposing the construction of a proposed state prison for East Gainesville at their Tuesday meeting, although the state has not submitted formal land use changes.

The potential site would house one of 19 correctional facilities that the state hopes to construct over the next five years, if Florida's population continues to grow, said Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

Several correctional facilities, including the Alachua County Jail and the Alachua Regional Juvenile Detention Center, already exist near the proposed site at Northeast 39th Avenue.

Because of limited funding, the state could take as long as five years to start building the prison, said Jerry Brewington, a senior planner in Alachua County's growth management department.

If approved, the new facilities could bring more released inmates and limit business development in East Gainesville, Commissioner Rodney Long said at the meeting.

"I'm aware that there may be an economic benefit to our community with the jobs in this arena," Long said. "However, I think the long-term impact will be much greater … the siting of such a facility is in total conflict with the city's and the county's comprehensive plan amendments to foster economic development through mixed uses in the area."

Because the construction of a new jail would go against the city's and county's plans, the state will have to apply for a change in land use. The state doesn't have the authority to build a prison there without communicating with the county and city, Brewington said.

The correctional facility would be built in two phases, costing an estimated $242 million. It would bring more than 800 jobs to the area, Plessinger said.

The first half of construction would include 1,335 beds for prisoners, dog kennels, a shooting range, 25 houses for officers and officer apartments. The second half of construction would provide a 1,475-bed mental health facility. Both phases would include inmates under security levels ranging from minimum to close-custody.

The potential site is under evaluation to determine whether it is a suitable location for a prison. There are nearby areas, including wetlands, that need to be avoided on the potential 50-to-60-acre site, Brewington said.

"We're at the beginning of this process. It's far from a done deal," Plessinger said. "This isn't something that's unique to Alachua County."

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