Update: Jeffco commissioners heed neighbors, kill plan to build halfway house near fairgrounds

Update: Early yesterday morning, we told you about a Jefferson County group opposed to a plan to build a halfway house near the Jeffco fairgrounds; see our previous coverage below.

Shortly after our post went live, members of the organization spoke to a Board of County Commissioners meeting -- and before long, officials decided not to move forward with a plan to build the facility on the controversial site.

As we reported, the halfway house would have had a 250-bed capacity, with residents likely to have included dozens of sex offenders among other violators. However, the folks with the Coalition for a Safe Fairgrounds felt the site was inappropriate due to its placement in a suburban neighborhood heavily populated with kids and near parks, schools, trails and an animal shelter.

Their argument quickly hit the sweet spot. Here's a Jefferson County release posted after the commissioners' meeting:

County Suspends Consideration of Site Near Fairgrounds for Community Corrections Location

Jefferson County has been reviewing a property along the W. Sixth Avenue Frontage Road near the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and Foothills Animal Shelter for the possible relocation of its Community Corrections program. However, following feedback from the public, the Jefferson County Commissioners today directed the County Administrator not to pursue that property further.

The Community Corrections program in Jefferson County has a long history of safely and successfully assisting residents to transition back into their Jefferson County neighborhoods following their involvement with the criminal justice system. Residents in the Community Corrections program are closely monitored and learn valuable job skills and experience that enables them to become self supporting and to support their families.

The Commissioners remain committed to the Community Corrections program, which has been proven to be very effective. A meeting that had been scheduled for June 25 to discuss the site near the fairgrounds will not be held.

We asked Coalition spokeswoman Amy Sears for her reaction to this development. Here's her response, delivered via e-mail.

"[Yesterday] morning at the Commissioners' weekly public hearing, about fifty Jeffco residents attended, and about 20-25 voiced their deep concern," she writes. "Within a couple of hours, we got word that this site was no longer on the table. We are elated that the county listened to its people and share a concern for the safety of its citizens. It goes to show how important two-way communication is between government and its residents -- we weren't even scheduled to discuss this with them until June 25th and we already have the answer we wanted."

Continue for our previous coverage of protests over a proposed Jefferson County halfway house, including additional photos. Original post, 6:48 a.m. May 20: At 8 a.m. this morning, a group of Jefferson County residents will be turning up at a Jeffco Board of County Commissioners hearing to send a simple message: Don't build a halfway house expected to be populated in part by dozens of sex offenders in our neighborhood.

What's wrong with the proposed site, near the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and the Foothills Animal Shelter? Amy Sears, a local mom who's part of Coalition for a Safe Fairgrounds, has plenty of reasons.

The proposed halfway house, a male-only facility with approximately 250 beds, is expected to replace a facility at 1651 Kendall Street in Lakewood, not far from Casa Bonita.

According to the Coalition, there are currently 42 registered sex offenders living at the Kendall Street address. The group also maintains that "individuals housed there will all be felons who have committed a variety of crimes including murder, assault, sexual assault, and burglary." A release adds that "the offenders who are accepted into the community corrections program are not locked or fenced in, and are given privileges including working off-site and additional freedoms not allowed in a more restrictive corrections environment.... Many of the individuals accepted into community corrections are individuals who have already failed on parole."

Adds Sears: "These people are going to be walking through our neighborhood to access public transportation. It's about half a mile from two different bus stops where kids catch the bus on the way to school, and they'll be going off to work at the same time the kids are going to school." (Sears has a second-grader and a fourth-grader.) "They'll also have to walk about a mile and a half to the Red Rocks Community College light rail station or one in the other direction at the Jefferson County Building. There's no bus route through there, either; it's a frontage road that dead ends, so there's only one way in or out from a car or bus perspective."

Beyond neighborhood residents, Sears sees potential dangers for visitors to the area.

"It will basically share grounds with the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, which is accessed by thousands of kids weekly: equestrian riders, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, community meetings. There are three parks a five-minute walk from the proposed facility, as well. Kids play there every day, and they also ride buses to elementary and middle schools that aren't very far away. And there's also a Montessori school about half a mile from there and several daycare centers."

Nearly as frustrating for Sears is the way she says the average resident living near the facility site found out about the project, expected to cost between $12 million and $14 million: through the media. "Most of us found out through CBS4 last week. The county may have contacted our home owners association, but most people didn't know anything about it until they saw it on TV."

Continue for more about the opposition to a Jefferson County halfway house, including additional photos and a document. Since then, the neighbors have mobilized, creating the Coalition for a Safe Fairgrounds website and a very active Facebook group. They've also been trying to directly contact Jefferson County officials, but have had only moderate success. For instance, Sears says she's yet to speak with Jefferson County Administrator Ralph Schell, and she wasn't reassured by his promises in a Fox31 report that the facility wouldn't be ringed with razor wire like a typical prison.

"It sounds like it would look like a regular apartment building," Sears notes, "and that makes us even more nervous. We don't want our kids thinking its a normal apartment complex, where they could go to the door for trick-or-treating or something like that."

Sears knows facilities like this one have to go somewhere and she's sensitive to criticism that strives to cast her organization's complaints in NIMBY terms. But she's steadfast in her belief that "this project is terrible for our neighborhood, terrible for the Fairgrounds, terrible for the animal shelter and terrible for people using the biking trails and trail heads that are right by the facility. It's terrible for the county as a whole."

Hence, Sears and company are circulating a physical petition aiming to prevent the facility from being built as planned (an online version is on the drawing board) and will be turning up in force at the County Commissioners hearing, slated to get underway at 8 a.m. in in Hearing Room 1 at the Jeffco Administration and Courts Facility, 100 Jefferson County Parkway in Golden.

Those attending expect to find at least one sympathetic ear: Jeffco commissioner Donald Rosier wrote a letter to one Coalition member saying he opposes the facility. We've included the letter below.

In the meantime, Sears argues that "there's about a 30 percent chance adult convicted felon committing a crime again -- so it's a huge gamble to let those people walk around in a residential neighborhood like ours."

Here's the Rosier letter:

Thank you for your e-mail correspondence regarding the potential relocation of the Community Corrections facility. Please note that the County Administrator has been looking for a new location for community corrections for approximately two years and has evaluated well over sixty separate potential locations.

As you may be aware, community corrections is currently housed in a building behind Casa Bonita. That building was built as part of the former Jewish Consumption Hospital back in 1906. The building is in need of repair and rehabilitation if it is to remain the site of the community correction facility. Current estimates place those repairs and rehabilitation at a cost of approximately $5.5 million dollars. A new community corrections facility, which would house up to 250 individuals, has been estimated to cost between $12 and $14 million dollars.

The idea of and the process around community corrections has proven to be a good way of transitioning individuals on parole back into the community. Without community corrections those individuals released have little to no supervision in the community and lack the structured programs that community corrections require.

However, one aspect that is extremely critical to the success of the program is its location and usability. The facility must be close to job opportunities and transportation for those in the program. It must also have proper sleeping, process, training, and office areas.

Based upon the information above, I feel that the proposed facility next to the Jeffco Fairgrounds is NOT a good location for community corrections. The current location of the facility and the overall lower cost for rehabilitation of the building makes leaving community correction where it currently is a better solution to the overall problem. The county has however been notified that the City of Lakewood does not want community corrections to remain where it is currently located and will not issue building permits for the required improvements. This type of action puts all of Jefferson County in a difficult situation.

I WILL NOT support the relocation of the community corrections facility next to the fairgrounds if and or when this issue is brought before the Board of County Commissioners.

If you have any questions on this email please do not hesitate to contact me at commish3@jeffco.us or at 303-271-8525

Thank you

Donald Rosier, PE Jefferson County Commissioner 100 Jefferson County Parkway Golden, CO 80419

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Business archive circa October 2009: "With development moratorium, do NW Denver NIMBYs have Councilman Garcia over a barrel?"

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