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City councilman says legal battle with county may be coming

The Terre Haute City Council met for a regular meeting Thursday night.

Posted: Nov. 1, 2018 11:24 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Some Terre Haute city council members say a legal battle with the county may be on the horizon.

The Terre Haute City Council met for a regular meeting Thursday night.

The council discussed a resolution some say would make it “crystal clear” they expect county commissioners to follow the same rules as everyone else.

Councilman Todd Nation says the county needs to request a rezoning of the former International Paper property if county commissioners want to put a new jail there.

He says the issues come down to one question, "Do they need to have it rezoned or not?" Nation says the answer is yes.

Terre Haute resident Lisa Spence says the city and county should move forward together on building a new jail on the old IP property. She cited recent news that an area businessman is interested in turning part of the property into an amphitheater. The developer told News 10 he would not mind being next to a new jail.

At the council meeting, Spence said, "There shouldn't be a problem because they've got someone who is willing to build next to it."

Elected leaders remain divided. The county owns the property but it is within city limits. County commissioners want to use it for a new jail and sheriff's office but city council members say the property is not currently zoned for that use and the county needs to request it be rezoned.

City Councilman Todd Nation explains there is a zoning classification specifically for jails.

Nation says, "To me, the idea that somehow that piece of the city code doesn't exist or shouldn't exist because the commissioners find it inconvenient I think that's ludicrous."

Nation and Councilwoman Martha Crossen worked together on a resolution. They say the goal is to send county commissioners a message. That message is they expect the county to come forward with a rezoning request just like anyone else would.

The city council tabled the resolution until next week.

Some council members say they want to hear from a third lawyer, outside the city or county, about who has the legal high ground.

Councilman George Azar said during the meeting, "It may lead us into a legal battle with the county. I hate that because I don't like to see the city and county against each other. I think we should work together, not against each other."

Crossen said, "If we as a body don't let the commissioners know that we expect them to follow our zoning ordinances and laws then we have failed our community and we have failed at our job. I can't imagine that there's an attorney's opinion in the world that could come forward in a week that would change my opinion of that fact."

The public is divided, too. While Spence voiced support for moving forward with the IP property location others said the space could be better used for anything else.

Councilman Nation says he does not think the IP property is a "good fit" for the new jail. He would like to see efforts to put the jail in the same complex as the current jail, near the courthouse and city hall.

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