County officials and neighbors opposed to a plan to build a combined sheriff’s office and emergency management office in the same residential neighborhood where the current facilities are located met Feb. 25 to make their respective cases to the other side.

The meeting was held at the county’s current Emergency Management Agency Office. By the end of the meeting, one idea that found some support was the creation of a citizen’s group to work with the project architects.

However, the neighborhood group has also asked county officials to hold off on presenting the project to the Belfast planning board in order to be sure the current plan is the most suitable.

The Waldo County Commissioners recently approved spending $1 million from existing county accounts to replace the sheriff’s office, which is located in an aging house on Congress Street that is attached to the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center, formerly the Waldo County Jail.

Plans call for a 10,500 square foot, single-story, L-shaped building to be built next to the Waldo County Regional Communications Center on Miller Street. The EMA portion of the building was approved last year for funding by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

About 50 people, many of whom live near the jail, attended the Feb. 25 meeting. The meeting lasted more than two and a half hours.

Neighbors expressed concern over increased noise, traffic, the lowering of property values and building such a structure in a historical, residential neighborhood.

The group also raised concerns about what they feel is a lack of communication from county officials with abutters about the project plans.

Neighbors said they do recognize that a new building is needed, but they questioned if another site, such as the 100-acre parcel of county-owned land on Route 52, might be more appropriate.

County officials have said it would cost too much to build on that site. In addition, EMA Director Dale Rowley said his office needs to be connected to the communications center and the Federal Aviation Administration will not allow the county to put up a tower near the airport, which is close to the 100-acre parcel mentioned by the neighbors. Sheriff Scott Story said it is advantageous to have his office located next to the re-entry center.

“I know this is your neighborhood,” Story told audience members. “But five years ago we abandoned the thought of building a big project.”

Several years ago voters rejected an $18 million corrections complex proposed for Route 52 and later slated for Lower Congress Street. The facility would have included the sheriff’s offices, a 72-bed jail and county government offices.

Story said he does not believe taxpayers in other county towns would approve building a facility on Route 52.

“Our goal was to save you money. You are not having to pay anything above what the commissioners before us have put away for this project,” said Waldo County Commissioner Donald Berry.

Berry said the project has been talked about by commissioners for years and is nothing new.

Congress Street resident Thierry Bonneville said it is rare to see so many people come out to such a meeting and that’s because the project has caught their attention.

“We are willing to work with you to find a solution and to campaign for a better solution,” he told county officials.

Bonneville said the group is not ready to talk about other related issues, such as trees and lighting, just yet.

Neighbors have asked to see figures for how much it would cost to build at an alternate locations.

“You deserve it, you need a new building, but we ask you to delay the presentation to the planning board to see if indeed there are no other solutions,” Bonneville said.

The Belfast Planning Board is scheduled to begin review of the plans on Tuesday, March 10. It was not clear at the Feb. 25 meeting if commissioners plan to postpone the presentation.

Berry said county officials are, however, willing to work with neighbors to make the current project the best it can be for everyone.

By the end of the meeting, some people were exploring the idea of organizing a citizen’s group to work with the architects on the project.

The Republican Journal reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at klincoln@villagesoup.com or at 338-3333.