Seattle names 4 sites that could house jail

Seattle officials Tuesday announced four possible sites for a new jail that would hold misdemeanor offenders when the King County Jail runs out of space.

The potential locations are all on industrial or commercial land outside of downtown:

• 11762 Aurora Ave. N. — currently a golf driving range and pro shop.

• 1600 W. Armory Way — a group of small warehouses south of Seattle’s Interbay Golf Course.

• 7200 West Marginal Way S.W. — a patch of mostly vacant land near the First Avenue South Bridge.

• 9501 Myers Way S. — part of a former gravel pit adjacent to the city’s new firefighter-training facility.

City officials recognize that putting a new jail in any neighborhood is likely to be controversial.

“I’m already starting to hear from some of my neighbors,” said City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who lives in Queen Anne, which is close to the Interbay site.

“There are going to be a lot of complaints, and many of them will be fear-driven,” said Burgess, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee. “But when we look at the facts, I think we can all understand the need for a jail, and we can understand that they can be safely run in our communities.”

City officials said they intend to seek plenty of public input before making a final decision. Burgess expects the process to take about nine months.

“We’re really committed to being a good neighbor on this,” said Catherine Cornwall, a senior policy adviser in the city’s Office of Policy and Management, who is leading the jail project for the city.

Seattle estimates it will need 445 beds in the new jail. A consultant two years ago estimated the cost at $110 million.

At least seven acres are needed to build the preferred low-rise complex. The city reviewed 35 sites and narrowed those down to 11 before settling on the four properties announced Tuesday.

But Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis stressed that the city isn’t locked into those four sites and will listen to suggestions about other possibilities.

“We’re still open to additional sites,” he said.

Seattle needs new jail space because the King County Jail won’t accept any more misdemeanor prisoners — people serving sentences of less than a year for crimes such as drunken driving or petty theft — after the city’s current contract with the jail ends Dec. 31, 2012.

Cornwall said Seattle already has done a lot of work finding alternatives to jail by diverting offenders into treatment programs and using electronic home monitoring. The number of people in jail on Seattle misdemeanor charges has dropped by 38 percent over the past 10 years, according to the city.

But beds still are required for crimes, such as repeated drunken driving, that carry mandatory sentences.

Other nearby cities face the same problem and are weighing whether to build additional municipal jails in the coming years.

Seattle ultimately could combine its new jail effort with Eastside and North King County cities — which need about 200 jail beds.

Ceis said if Seattle merges its efforts with those cities, the suburbs also would have to put some potential jail sites up for consideration.

South King County cities, meanwhile, are looking at building their own separate jail. They have hired a real-estate broker and are looking for possible properties for a new 800-bed jail, said Renton Police Chief Kevin Milosevich.

Those cities include Renton, Auburn, Tukwila, Kent, Des Moines and Federal Way.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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