by ZACH KAYSER
Winona County has decided covering 40 percent of the new jail’s facade with fake windows is too many fake windows.
Having earlier expressed amenability to the requirement imposed on the jail by the city of Winona’s Board of Adjustment (BOA), County Administrator Ken Fritz told the County Board Tuesday he plans to formally appeal the BOA’s decision to require 40-percent “transparency” as a condition of allowing the jail to deviate from zoning law. In this instance, 40 percent transparency means that at least 40 percent of each building facade on the north and south sides of the jail must be broken up by windows or items that have the same aesthetic effect as windows.
“This is an unusual building,” Fritz said. “It’s not a retail building. It’s not a commercial building. It’s a jail.”
The city maintains the transparency requirement so that downtown buildings do not appear as unbroken blank walls. The aesthetic rules are set by the city Planning Commission and allowances to break those rules are determined by the BOA. The BOA granted all three variances requested for the jail, with the transparency quota as a condition for one of the variances.
Fritz also acknowledged that the 40-percent condition was a compromise from the normal 60-percent requirement. However, after talking to the county’s architectural firm for the jail project, Klein McCarthy, he wanted to take it down further to 20 percent or less. Based on the total square footage of the north and south facades, adding fake windows to the degree the BOA wanted would cost the county somewhere in the $180,000 to $200,000 range, he said.
Commissioner Steve Jacob said he wanted to be a good neighbor to the city, but the service of a jail still needed to be provided by law. He apparently saw the windows as a half-measure.
“To try and fool the citizenry that it’s not a jail, seems a little disingenuous,” Jacob said.
County Board Chair Marcia Ward said she had spoken to a City Council member on the issue, who she did not name at the meeting. “In my nature, I’m always looking for bargaining chips,” she said. She joked that as a bargaining chip, the county could threaten to put concertina barbed wire around the jail if the city did not relent on the zoning issue. “My friend Nancy [Pelosi] in Washington D.C. [is putting] barbed wire all around my nice Capitol building,” Ward said.
The county appeal would come before the Winona City Council at the council’s June 7 meeting, Fritz said.