October 5, By Tara Law
Members of two Kew Gardens associations have penned a statement opposing a proposal to reopen and expand the shuttered Queens Detention Complex.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he is considering reopening the site, located at 126-02 82nd Avenue, as he looks to close Rikers Island and replace it with neighborhood jails. Local councilmembers support the move.
On Monday, council member Elizabeth Crowley addressed a letter to the mayor asking him to bring the jail back into use. Her letter was co-signed by 10 Queens councilmembers including Karen Koslowtiz.
The statement in opposition was signed on Oct. 4 by Dominick Pistone, the President of Kew Gardens Civic Association, and Sylvia Hack, the President of the Kew Gardens Improvement Association. The statement condemned what it described as the secrecy surrounding Crowley’s letter to the mayor. They argue that the neighborhood is not prepared to accommodate an expanded jail facility.
Until it was shuttered 15 years ago, the Queens Detention Complex was equipped to house 500 prisoners and was largely problem free.
Murray Berger, a 60-year resident and executive chairman of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, said that his members primary concern is that the facility will be much larger.
He said that he is also worried that the building will be used as the primary jail for all of Queens and that it will accommodate detainees for an extended period of time.
On Oct. 2, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said that the mayor is considering using the building as it works to shift from using Rikers as a citywide jail to holding detainees in jails in the boroughs.
“Expanding and reopening the Queens Detention Center would be an ideal first step and we have already started to take a hard look at this site to determine its feasibility,” said Natalie Grybauskas, a City Hall spokesperson.
Grybauskas did not comment about the size of the expansion.
Michael Cohen, the communications director for Council Member Karen Koslowitz, stated that “it’s possible” the Detention Complex would become the primary jail for the borough.
Cohen said that the number of inmates it would hold is uncertain, and that it would likely be years before the jail opens. He said that he believes that the size of the city’s jail population will shrink as policies change, and that the priority is eliminating Rikers.
Both civic associations argue that the reopening of the complex would make parking in the area difficult.
Prisoners at the detention complex when it was open were only kept at the jails for short stays, the civic groups claim, and a 900 car garage was located nearby. If the facility were reopened as a jail, they argue, visitors would be forced to comb the neighborhood streets for already-scarce parking.
Crowley’s letter in support–backed by the 10 councilmembers– claims that the site makes sense since it is “centrally located in a civic center, it is connected to the courts, and with the proper capital investment it can be functional for this use.” The letter states that other sites across the borough would provoke more disagreement.
“Selecting this facility would avoid the fraught process of placing community jails in residential neighborhoods throughout the borough, a move that we as lawmakers committed to the goals of the Lippman Commission forcefully oppose,” Crowley’s letter reads.