Plans for a federal Bureau of Prisons halfway house in Blue Summit are on hold as Jackson County legislators and Independence City Council members say they want more information.
County legislators on Monday delayed voting on rezoning needed for the project. Legislators said there are concerns about which inmates would be sent there and about access to bus service that inmates would need to get to work and get to other services.
“It might make the people more successful if you can get them to where the jobs are,” said Legislator Tony Miller, D-Lee’s Summit. Legislators suggested the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority be contacted to see if a bus stop could be put there.
Later Monday the Independence City Council unanimously postponed voting on a resolution opposing the plan for two weeks. The resolution calls the proposed facility “a detriment to the businesses and neighborhoods of western Independence.”
The company Working Partners plans to turn the school at 1624 Blue Ridge Blvd. into a Federal Bureau of Prisons residential re-entry center for inmates a few months away from release in the Kansas City area. The site is the old Stark School on Blue Ridge Boulevard south of Truman Road. It’s immediately across the street from Independence.
Independence Council Member Karen DeLuccie said it would be presumptuous to vote on the council resolution without hearing directly from Working Partners, knowing how the city’s endorsement could be crucial for the project.
“I don't know if I agree or disagree with it,” DeLuccie said. “I think it's premature for us as a body to vote when we haven't heard testimony and it's not in our jurisdiction.”
Noting the potential impact on nearby neighborhoods, Council Member John Perkins said, “We need to get that ironed out.”
Council Member Curt Dougherty agreed on the importance of some testimony before a vote.
“I think it's awfully nervy of us to dictate that to someone else,” he said. “It would be like us telling Sugar Creek what to do.”
The council member who requested the resolution, Tom Van Camp, was in Jefferson City for committee work and unable to join the meeting via video feed, and Mayor Eileen Weir also was not at Monday’s meeting.
Working Partners plans a facility of 130 beds – 115 for men, 15 for women – with a staff of about 42 and an annual payroll of $2.3 million.
The company, which would have a 10-year contract with the Bureau of Prisons, says it would not take sex offenders or violent offenders such as arsonists. It says these are mostly white-collar criminals being given the chance to reconnect with family and find work as they make the transition from federal custody. It says inmates are constantly tested for drugs and alcohol, and that there are room checks several times a day.
At a county hearing last week, residents of the area spoke both in favor of and strongly against the proposal, expressing a concern about criminals in the area. One resident suggested that inmates would walk from that site south along Blue Ridge to U.S. 40 to catch buses there.
Working Partners says it has a solution: Vans would take inmates to the bus transit center at Noland and Truman roads just off the Square. The city also has a concern there. The resolution the council is considering calls that idea “detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood and businesses.”
– The Examiner’s Mike Genet contributed to this report.