Just outside of the newly built Greene County Jail. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

The Springfield City Council will consider a bill to rezone the nearly 25 acres of land where the new Greene County Sheriff’s Office and jail stand, but there’s some debate as to how much the zoning matters.

To the city, proper zoning designations and adherence to codes matter. To the county, it’s just paperwork.

The $150 million, 325,000-square-foot jail complex sits at the intersection of West Division Street/State Route EE and Haseltine Road. It was annexed into the city of Springfield in 2022, in part, so that it could be serviced by the larger and more robust fire department. The city allowed the annexation of the land, but the county never finalized a zoning change — until now.

This council bill would rezone the property from an agricultural classification to a “G.I.” government and institution classification.

Greene County Director of Resource Management Kevin Barnes spoke to the council when the bill was introduced on Aug. 8. It will come up for a final vote by the City Council on Aug. 22.

In Barnes’s view, this whole move is a matter of red tape.

“I did want to point out the zoning here is kind of a moot point,” Barnes said. “The city doesn’t have any zoning authority over the county, but in doing that, we wanted to be a good neighbor.”

The new jail had 1,242 inmate beds when it was dedicated on May 13, up from about 990 beds at the old jail. It has been open and operating on agricultural land, according to Springfield ordinances, ever since. 

“Members of council had asked if we would go through the motions of rezoning this so that the use would match city zoning,” Barnes said. “We’ve kept our promise.”

The new sheriff’s office is also part of the new facility, and it takes up 62,000 square feet. A separate building for training, evidence storage and patrol vehicle outfitting and maintenance is also on site at the new campus.

“The property is already developed,” Springfield Director of Planning and Development Susan Istenes said. “It’s adjacent to the airport to the north, a quarry to the south, a cemetery and funeral home to the west and vacant land to the east. The proposed zoning will have really no impact — no substantial impact on the public street system, pedestrian traffic or impact traffic safety in the area.”

Walking to and from the jail

View of the newly built Greene County Sheriff’s Office and jail off Haseltine Road. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Istenes’ mention of pedestrian traffic attracted the attention of Zone 1 Councilwoman Monica Horton, who asked if there were any stipulations in the code for governmental zoning that required a property owner to place sidewalks for pedestrians along the easements on the property.

There are none.

“The rezoning is an after — an application after the development has already occurred, and so it really doesn’t lend itself to that,” City Manager Jason Gage said. “The city actually asked for that to be annexed in — the property — and then zoned, and so because of the timing of that, it really wouldn’t be a condition we could put on, just because of the order of events.”

Pedestrian safety around the jail has been a topic of discussion among those who know Springfield transportation. Inmates who are discharged from the jail can sometimes be seen walking east toward Springfield. Friends and loved ones of jail inmates have also been spotted walking west toward the jail to visit inmates from the lobby. There are no sidewalks on West Division Street or on Haseltine Road.

“The sidewalks were not added at the time because they don’t connect anywhere,” Barnes said. “There aren’t sidewalks on Chestnut [Expressway]. There aren’t sidewalks on Division. We’d love to have a sidewalk project that has some connectivity, and hopefully, as the city does expand west, we’ll be able to incorporate those.”

There are no sidewalks, but Barnes said Greene County invested in roads and utility infrastructure in other ways as the jail was built.

“We actually completely rebuilt Haseltine Road, we widened it with shoulders, we added turn lanes on Double-E,” Barnes said. “ We spent over a million dollars on road improvements, we extended the sanitary sewer all the way down the west side of Haseltine so that it could be extended to other parts of the community.”

Taxi vouchers for departing inmates

The new Greene County Jail has 20 pods of holding cells. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

At a meeting in early July, the Greene County Commission discussed a concern with what happens on the roads that go by the jail, West Division Street, or State Route EE, and Haseltine Road. On July 9, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office announced via its Facebook page that it would give certain inmates vouchers for taxi rides upon their release from jail.

“We reached out to some of the local companies, and Yellow Cab, in particular, was interested in helping us temporarily until we could get some information on how much that service would be needed,” Maj. Royce Denny told the county commissioners at a meeting on July 7.

There are some stipulations. To qualify for a cab ride into Springfield, an inmate must enter the jail with less than $20 on their person, and they must be unable to otherwise arrange a ride using phones in the jail lobby or with their personal cell phones.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office published a list of destinations on its Facebook Page. They include the City Utilities bus transfer station, the Greyhound Bus station on West Chestnut Expressway, Salvation Army, Harbor House, the Burrell Behavioral Health Rapid Access unit, the O’Reilly Center for Hope, Victory Mission, Veterans Coming Home, Cox Medical Center North, Mercy Springfield’s main hospital, the Greene County Courthouse and the Springfield Municipal Court.

In November 2017, voters in Greene County approved a ½-cent sales tax increase that was initially projected to generate more than $25 million per year. The list of projects that the Greene County Commission of 2017 pledged included jail expansion, hiring of new jail staff members, operating expenses for the jail, additional operating expenses in the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, emergency radio system improvements, courthouse renovations, mental health programs and more.

Most of the inmates in the Greene County Jail are being held for pre-trial court proceedings, and have not been convicted and sentenced. 

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger