by CHRIS ROGERS
The Winona County Jail’s request to bend aesthetic rules and the city of Winona’s requirement for the jail to sport fake windows will get a second hearing on Wednesday.
The planned new jail will be located between the existing Law Enforcement Center and the interstate bridge landing, with construction slated for this fall. As part of a set of aesthetic zoning rules, the city requires the facades of downtown buildings be made up of 60 percent windows. Citing security concerns, county officials sought an exception — called a variance — to those rules that would allow the new jail to be almost entirely windowless, except for a few windows near its entrance and skylights.
On May 5, the city’s Board of Adjustment (BOA) split the difference, granting the variance but with a condition requiring the new jail to feature faux windows on 40 percent of the north and south facades. City and county officials believed fake windows would mitigate the city’s aesthetic concerns about the jail’s exterior while accommodating the county’s security needs.
Some have been skeptical of the faux-window compromise, with County Board member Steve Jacob calling the idea “disingenuous” and some citizens criticizing the focus on aesthetics as opposed to inmate welfare. Conversely, BOA Chair Chris Sanchez said fake windows would help the new jail fit in with the rest of downtown, and BOA members likened them to the faux storefront on Bay State Milling’s new warehouse on the east side of Levee Park.
County Administrator Ken Fritz initially told the BOA the county was agreeable to the condition, but county officials later decided to appeal the BOA’s decision to the City Council, hoping the council would reduce the number of fake windows required. The BOA condition was impractical, Fritz argued, and could cost the county an extra $200,000 on the up-to-$25-million jail project.
Now, instead of appealing the requirement all the way up to the City Council, the county will go before the BOA again to make its case for fewer fake windows. Winona City Planner Carlos Espinosa said that — given the change from the county’s initial plan of nearly no windows to its latest proposal to cover 20 percent of the facade with fake windows — it made sense for the county to apply for a new variance rather than appeal to the City Council. County officials agreed to withdraw the appeal and reapply, Espinosa explained.
The BOA will hold a public hearing on the matter at its virtual meeting on Wednesday, June 2, at 5 p.m. To join on a computer or smartphone, visit tinyurl.com/hu6kz5h3, enter meeting ID 867 8035 1222 and passcode 1088. To join via telephone, dial 1-312-626-6799 and enter meeting ID 867 8035 1222 when prompted.