ICE Seeks Change In Zoning

Published 3:13 pm Thursday, August 11, 2011

FARMVILLE – Town Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to advertise a zoning change for a September public hearing that would, according to Town Manager Gerald Spates, accommodate expansion of the ICA immigration detention facility.

The proposed zoning change would eliminate the word “level one detainees” and replace it simply with “detainees.”

If approved, the detainee population at the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement-run (ICE) facility would not be confined by zoning to the federal government's level one designation, which is for “lowest threat” detainees.

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There was no discussion during council's meeting, however, of Level 2 or Level 3 detainees being temporarily housed at the Farmville facility while it is decided whether they would be deported or returned to their home communities.

No detainees have been, nor would be, released in Farmville.

Bringing up the proposed zoning change, Spates told council, “It has to do with the definition that we have in our zoning ordinance under district B-3, concerning private and public detention facilities. In order to be in compliance with ICE's policies and procedures they've asked that we re-word it, the zone for detention facilities. Really there's not going to be any change in the present operation of the facility.”

Spates then told council that the Immigration Centers of America-Farmville facility had recently received its accreditation from the American Correctional Association and the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections.

“It's a big accomplishment for a facility like that,” the town manager said.

“All of the facilities will remain the same” if the zoning change is approved, he continued. “There will be no changes in the operation. It will still remain as a detention holding facility.

“And what they're asking, and if you look at the uses the present definition says Level 1 detainees. That will be taken out and they're asking that it just say private or public detention holding facilities for adult immigrant detainees with a conditional use permit. So you still have the conditional use permit that you can make them comply…

“We need to refer it to the planning commission for a report back to council,” he said.

That is what Town Council did, with a public hearing expected in conjunction with council's September 14 meeting.

The current Business District B-3 section in question currently reads: “In business district B-3 structures to be erected or land to be used shall be for one or more of the following uses; a conditional use permit may be required for each use: Private or public detention or holding facilities for adult immigrant Level 1 detainees, with a conditional use permit.”

The proposed zoning amendment would change the wording to “Private or public detention or holding facilities for adult immigrant detainees, with a conditional use permit.”

Spates reiterated to The Herald that the zoning change “won't change the way it's run.”

The town manager explained to the newspaper that the zoning change is being sought “because they want to expand the facility…The Feds were uncomfortable with having Level 1 in the wording.”

During conversations with The Herald, Spates said plans call for the addition of another wing at the facility, with the project being developed in two phases that would ultimately see the detainee population doubled and approximately 100 additional jobs added to the current 250-person payroll.

Spates said the first phase of the expansion would add 50 jobs and take the detainee number up to 940, with the second phase adding another 50 jobs, for a total of 100 additional jobs, with the detainee population rising to 1,200.

There are currently 500 detainees at the facility, that employs 250 people.

During Wednesday night's meeting, Spates pointed out the income received by the Town from the detention facility. The Town is paid a dollar per day per detainee and June and July have seen the Town receive more than $15,000.