A proposed jail release center bitterly opposed by South Arlington residents has been killed by local officials after the state of Virginia agreed yesterday to remove 100 of its inmates from Arlington County's crowded jail.
The agreement settles a lawsuit filed by the county against the state last year in an attempt to relieve crowding at the county jail, which is designed to hold 164 prisoners but at times has held more than 400.
It also diffuses a politically sticky situation for the County Board, which next week was to have considered a proposal by County Manager Anton S. Gardner for a 130-bed facility near Barcroft Park for minimum-security inmates, the homeless and drug and alcohol addicts.
The proposal drew more than 400 angry residents to a Planning Commission meeting earlier this week, and many residents accused Gardner of pushing the plan toward the County Board without receiving enough comments from the community.
Gardner said yesterday that the settlement "takes the immediate pressure off the jail." He said he will withdraw the Barcroft proposal at a Planning Commission meeting this morning.
"This allows us to take additional time to look at the facilities we need," Gardner said. "We will take the summer to work with the community on this."
Gardner said he still believes Arlington needs a new jail release center, homeless shelter and treatment facility for drug and alcohol abusers. But he said any new proposal may not include all three programs at the same location.
The current proposal's 1.8-acre site near Barcroft Park will not be considered in a future plan, he predicted.
"I think this is terrific news," said Randy Swart, president of the Barcroft School and Civic League, one of two dozen civic groups that lined up to fight the proposal. "There will be some very happy people in the Four Mile Run Valley who thought that the government had stopped listening to them."
Arlington sued the state in December in an attempt to force the removal of state prisoners -- those with sentences of more than a few months -- from the crowded county facility, which at that time had about 360 inmates.
The jail's population has fluctuated since then, at times reaching 400. There were about 330 prisoners at the jail late yesterday, Sheriff James A. Gondles Jr. said.
The state recently accepted 23 inmates in what county officials described as a good-faith gesture.
Under the settlement, the state will accept additional inmates through September, and by then Arlington officials hope the jail's population will have fallen to about 200, its lowest level in more than two years.
State officials said the settlement was prompted in part by the expected opening this year of two new state prisons -- one in Greensville County, the other in Buchanan County -- that will hold about 1,500 inmates.
"This reduces the critical nature of the crowding problem," said County Board member Mary Margaret Whipple, one of several Arlington officials who met with state officials last month in discussions that ultimately led to the settlement. "I think we were able to show that Arlington's overcrowding problem was worse than the state's overcrowding problem."
Whipple's role in the settlement may help diffuse some criticism that could have come her way over the Barcroft proposal this fall, when she is up for reelection.
Although the County Board has not considered the Barcroft plan, angry residents opposing the plan already were blaming county officials -- board members included -- for Gardner's proposal, which the residents feared would bring criminals and transients to Barcroft Park.
Bank executive Monte Davis, who this week filed to run against Whipple, cited the proposal as an example of "a county government that isn't responding to its people." Now, with Whipple having aided in a settlement that led to the death of the Barcroft plan, Davis may have more difficulty making the Barcroft controversy a campaign issue.
Some South Arlington residents said that while the Barcroft plan may be dead, they hope that the furor over it taught Arlington's government not to try to push similar proposals toward approval so quickly.
"A lot of people are very concerned about the way the county is doing its business," said John Brannock, president of the Claremont Citizens Association. "This is a lucky bounce, and I hope the county has learned something from all this."