'Error' on council agenda stokes concerns about possible site for new Fredericton jail

An item that appeared briefly on Fredericton city council's last meeting agenda would have set a date for public hearings on the rezoning of a property to allow a correctional centre near the Vanier Industrial Park. (Jon Collicott/CBC - image credit)
An item that appeared briefly on Fredericton city council's last meeting agenda would have set a date for public hearings on the rezoning of a property to allow a correctional centre near the Vanier Industrial Park. (Jon Collicott/CBC - image credit)

An item included "in error" on a Fredericton council meeting agenda is fanning speculation about where the province wants to build a new jail and stoking concerns among residents living near the site.

The agenda for last Monday's council meeting included a proposed public hearing date for objections and support for an application to rezone a plot of land near the Vanier Industrial Park to allow the construction of a "correctional facility."

The 25-hectare site is situated off the southern end of Blizzard Street and covers a wooded area that ends at the north side of the Vanier Highway.

The jail item about it was removed from the agenda just hours before the council meeting's start time.

Now the City of Fredericton says the item's inclusion on the agenda was an error, and the province says no property has yet been acquired to build the $32 million jail it announced last December.

"The item appeared on the agenda in error,"  city spokesperson Wayne Knorr said in an email.

"No application has been received."

Knorr did not answer a followup question about how an item so specific was added to the agenda in error. He said any application received would go through the proper planning process.

Google Earth
Google Earth

At the time the agenda item went up on the city's website, it appeared to hint for the first time at exactly where the provincial government might want to build its new jail to house 100 inmates.

The jail would add to the five provincially run jails already in New Brunswick, which were built to house a total of 470 men, but were housing 498 by last year.

At the time the Fredericton jail was announced, Premier Blaine Higgs said it was needed in response to increasing crime across the province, particularly drug use and drug trafficking.

CBC News asked the provincial government whether it's considering the piece of land, which was identified on the agenda under property account number 00780799.

Department of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson Tyler McLean said in an email that no property has yet been acquired by the government for the project, and the site selection process is still underway.

"Sites for correctional centres are chosen as part of a detailed selection process and evaluated on the basis of various criteria, including property size, location, access, zoning, property adjacency, access to services and price," McLean said.

"This criteria, provided by the Department of Justice and Public Safety, is based on the department's past experience with other facilities and best practices."

Lincoln Heights residents concerned

Charlene Smith lives in Lincoln Heights, a neighbourhood located about 700 metres from the northwestern corner of the plot of land identified in the mysterious, deleted agenda item.

She said she found out about the agenda item after it was shared to a Facebook group largely made up of Lincoln Heights residents.

Zoom/CBC
Zoom/CBC

"And then everyone realized, 'Wait a second, this is the first we're hearing about, you know, our neighbourhood being super close to where the planned possible location could be,' and it just sort of took all of us by surprise," Smith said.

She said the neighbourhood is about a 10-minute walk to the site mentioned in the agenda, and she fears what could happen if an inmate escaped from a jail so close by.

"One huge concern is obviously the kids in their neighborhood, and if there's anyone in there for any type of child predatory type of offences would be super concerning."

Jon Collicott/CBC
Jon Collicott/CBC

Reegan McDougal, who also lives in Lincoln Heights, said she's not only concerned about possible escapes, but also about what might happen to the value of homes in the area.

"We've been there for a long time. We have no plans of selling," McDougall said.

"But I also don't want to see my property value drop or have problems selling my property in 15, 20 years because, you know, the correctional facility that they thought was supposed to hold 100 people, is now holding 500."

Both acknowledged that a potential application for a jail on that property could be rejected at the council level.

However, they said given the nature of the project, residents should be consulted even if the province is just considering the site.

"Nobody wants to find out on Facebook that there could be, potentially, a correctional facility or jail going up in or around your neighborhood," McDougall said.