Arlington officials dropped a proposal yesterday for a 70-bed corrections facility for low-risk inmates that was to have been combined with a homeless shelter and a drug treatment center, citing budget constraints and the prospect of a new regional jail near Fredericksburg.
Instead, County Manager Anton S. Gardner's staff proposed that the county build an 85-bed facility for the homeless and drug and alcohol addicts on a two-acre site at Columbia Pike and Washington Boulevard that is owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The proposed facility, outlined last night before a citizens panel that was created after an earlier proposal for a site near Barcroft Park drew widespread criticism, would cost about $2.6 million to build and $1.3 million a year to operate, said Ron Carlee, Arlington's director of human services.
Carlee told the committee that the county's fiscal condition had "changed dramatically" since this spring, when Gardner proposed the Barcroft facility. That plan, proposed primarily to relieve crowding in Arlington's jail, was withdrawn after the state agreed to accept about 100 inmates from the county.
"It's going to be very difficult for the county to fund new programs in the coming year," said Carlee, citing Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's recent call for reductions in state funding to local governments.
Carlee also said that Arlington officials now believe a regional jail proposed for 150 acres of land at Fort A.P. Hill is likely to win congressional approval. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) introduced the plan in May, and the funding for it was included in a bill that has cleared the Senate.
Arlington Sheriff's Department officials, who supported Gardner's original plan for a corrections facility, said yesterday that the regional jail would reduce the need for a large facility for low-risk inmates in Arlington by allowing the county to separate such inmates from criminals serving longer sentences.
The citizens panel, which had agreed to recommend that the county separate the corrections facility and was considering 11 other sites throughout the county, generally praised the new proposal. But a few members expressed concern about the proposed facility's size, questioned its location and said they still were undecided as to whether the two programs should be in the same building.
"The size of the original proposal was undoable in any neighborhood, and I feel that may be the case still," said committee member Ted Saks, referring to estimates that the county's new proposal could be increased to 137 beds. "I'm also somewhat disturbed at the manner in which the county manager has come to us with what appears to be a fait accompli."
Carlee said the proposal, which lists a tract in the 3500 block of North Lee Highway in Cherrydale as an alternate site, is not a final one.
"We're definitely open to other alternatives," Carlee told the panel. "You're free to reorganize any part of this you want to."
The panel agreed last night that the homeless and drug treatment programs should be linked, and voted to drop consideration of a corrections facility.