A plan to build a new sheriff’s office and Emergency Management Agency building on a vacant lot behind the former jail was cause for celebration among county officials, but in the weeks since the announcement, a group of neighbors has come out strongly opposed to the plan.

The Waldo County Commissioners recently approved spending $1 million from existing county accounts to replace the nearly 200-year-old house that contains the Sheriff’s Office with a new building. Early plans would combine a 6,000-square-foot sheriff’s office with a new 3,200-square-foot Emergency Management Agency building approved for funding last year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

County officials anticipate that the building would be a single-story, with an L-shaped floor plan.

Thierry Bonneville, who owns land abutting the site of the proposed building, says he and other neighbors support building a new building for the Sheriff’s Office and EMA, but not in a residential neighborhood with historic character.

“We’re all for them getting the 21st-century office they want,” he said. “That being said, we’re shocked that the plan is for there.”

Residents in the area first learned of the proposed building when a neighbor saw surveyors working on a discontinued portion of Franklin Street, between the re-entry center and an adjacent residence. Since then, a group opposing the new building has met several times and produced a slide show depicting views of the proposed site from abutting properties.

The group has raised issues with the building, but also with the process, from which members feel they have been excluded. In a list of major concerns distributed by Bonneville, the group also takes issue with the scale of the building, and with what the group anticipates to be an increase in traffic, noise and light.

The group maintains that the new offices should be built on a 100-acre parcel of county-owned land on Route 52.

“In 2010, I don’t think anybody would be building a jail in this setting,” said Bonneville, referring to the former Waldo County Jail, located adjacent to the proposed Sheriff’s and EMA compex.

According to City Planner Wayne Marshall, zoning that dates to at least 1985 allows for professional offices, health-care facilities, municipal uses, and what he described as quasi-public uses, with no specification of a size or intensity limit.

Marshall pointed to a 2.5-acre lot on Miller Street, across from the proposed sheriff’s and EMA building. “Someone could propose to put a professional office on that property and it is an allowed use,” he said. As an example of a professional office, he offered a small call center.

The proposed sheriff’s and EMA building would be considered a non-municipal public use, Marshall said. Under Belfast’s zoning code, it would be subject to a two-step approval process, but Marshall said the county requested a third step to allow additional public input.

That process is slated to begin Wednesday, March 10, when the Planning Board will review a sketch plan of the building. The meeting will serve as a public hearing, with a focus on what Marshall termed the “big-picture issues.”

County officials have scheduled a neighborhood meeting, Thursday, Feb. 25 at 5 p.m. at the EMA building, located in the basement of the re-entry center, 45A Congress St.