Arlington officials began trying last night to soothe the wounds from a bitterly opposed plan for a jail release center that was withdrawn last month, telling a county-appointed residents' panel that its recommendations for a new proposal will be seriously considered.
The panel, a mixture of North and South Arlington civic and business leaders, includes some of the most vocal critics of the previous proposal.
The panel's members were appointed by County Manager Anton S. Gardner in an attempt to fend off criticism that the earlier plan -- which called for a 130-bed facility near Barcroft Park to house minimum-security inmates, homeless people and drug and alcohol abusers -- had been rushed toward the County Board without enough community debate.
Gardner, who withdrew the plan June 15, said its consideration was accelerated because of the need for a jail release facility to relieve crowding at Arlington's jail.
The plan was scrapped after the state agreed to accept about 100 inmates from the jail. Gardner said the state's action, which settled a lawsuit filed by Arlington, gave the county more time to build a jail release facility.
Gardner told members of the panel last night that theirs is a "tough, difficult task." He said Arlington's need for a jail release facility, though eased by the state's acceptance of the inmates, is expected to keep increasing.
It wasn't long before the panel, whose membership was selected by Gardner and revealed minutes before its first meeting last night, plunged into what will be its stickiest questions: Whether all three programs proposed in the Barcroft plan should be located at the same facility, and where the county could put any or all of the programs.
Former Planning Commission member Michael Hall, a member of the panel, said he believes the panel should address the site question first. Hall, a South Arlington resident, said the county's list of possible sites should not be limited to South Arlington, where land is less expensive than other areas of the county.
Other panel members questioned whether a facility the size of the one proposed for Barcroft Park -- whose value was put at $4.7 million -- is really needed.
Community leaders said they generally are pleased with Gardner's choices for the panel, which includes two South Arlington civic leaders, John Brannock and F. Paxton Baker, who were vocal opponents of the Barcroft plan. The panel's chairman is Lutrelle F. Parker, a South Arlington lawyer and a retired member of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Board of Appeals. Planning Commissioner Barbara Favola and Chamber of Commerce President Henry O. Lampe also are on the panel, which has 18 members.