Overlake Picked As Site Of New Jail -- Locke Calls For County To Spend $4.2 Million
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
King County Executive Gary Locke has recommended a site near Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue for a future Eastside jail-and-courtroom complex.
Locke's recommendation, sent yesterday to the Metropolitan King County Council, calls for the county to spend $4.2 million to acquire the 6 3/4-acre site.
Locke's recommendation, however, does not call for a jail to be built just yet.
County voters in 1992 agreed to a tax levy to build a jail and court complex in Kent that is to open in January 1997, and to buy land for a future jail on the Eastside. But the levy did not provide money for the Eastside jail's construction. That would require a second vote.
Locke said it is unlikely the county would call for a jail levy for four or five more years.
Ideally, "regional justice centers" in South and East King County and the jail and courts in downtown Seattle would allow court services and incarceration to be closer to local communities.
Suspects would be taken to a jail closest to the crime, saving travel time for police. They also would be tried and, if convicted, serve time close to their home community. Attorneys, judges and juries all would be decentralized.
But the proposed Bellevue site is drawing community opposition.
Locke's choice was winnowed from 13 potential sites, and then from four final options after three years of studies.
In choosing the so-called Chaffey site, Locke turned down near Bellevue City Hall, in Bellevue at Northeast Fourth Street and 112th Avenue Northeast, and in Redmond on Leary Way.
Locke said the City Hall site had wetlands problems, that existing buildings on the Heller/Tally site on Northeast Fourth made it too expensive and that the Redmond property was too long and narrow.
Locke emphasized that his recommendation was not a decision to go ahead but just a way to "land bank" the site. He promised to set up an advisory committee in Bellevue to answer citizens' concerns.
Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson said he was surprised and a bit disappointed by the lack of communication from Locke's office.
"This is my town, and here I'm left wondering what's going on," said Davidson, who preferred the Redmond site as a first choice and the site across from City Hall as a second.
He stopped short of saying the city would protest. "I can't say we're going to oppose it," he said, "but we sure have a lot of talking to do."
Some of those discussions are bound to be with Rob McKenna, Bellevue's newly elected county councilman, and Jane Hague, a former Bellevue city councilwoman who chairs the County Council's Law and Justice Committee.
Hague said $7 million is available to buy land for a jail and said she would propose that whatever isn't needed for the purchase be used to ease public concerns about the jail's location.
Premature to discuss site
McKenna said it is premature to discuss the site at this juncture.
"I'm not convinced it makes economic sense to put a satellite facility on the Eastside at all," he said. "There was never any serious study given to comparing the cost of expanding the existing jail."
He said the decision to build a satellite facility was made for political, not economic reasons, because Seattle doesn't want its jail expanded.
Safety is the main concern
Safety is the chief concern at Overlake Hospital Medical Center, said spokeswoman Hope Tuttle.
"We are very, very concerned about our staff and physicians, their safety and their feelings of safety," she said. The hospital employs 1,500 people.
"We have shifts around the clock," Tuttle said. "A fair number of people are coming in and out 24 hours a day."
In addition, traffic already backs up near the site along 116th Avenue Northeast and congestion would threaten emergency access, she said.
However, the site has easy access to both Interstate 405 and Highway 520 and Randolph Gordon, president of the East King County Bar Association, thinks Locke's choice makes sense.
"There are reasons, by the way, Overlake is located where it is," Gordon said. "It's accessible and close to the community it serves. That accessibility is also important for a justice center.
"Going to Seattle is a tremendous waste of time and money. Having a court complex in downtown Bellevue is a reflection of a growing and maturing community which is no longer just a bedroom community to Seattle."
Seattle Times reporters Stephen Clutter and Susan Byrnes contributed to this report.
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