Sept. 18, 2018 By Tara Law (Edited 9/19)
A number of Kew Gardens residents have come together to launch a campaign to block the reopening and expansion of the Queens House of Detention.
About 25 residents have formed the Community Preservation Coalition, a group that aims to stop the Mayor’s plan to reopen the shuttered 126-01 82nd Ave. facility.
The group is comprised of many of the same people who led the successful effort to the save the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge, according to coalition member Dominick Pistone, who also heads the Kew Gardens Civic Association.
The coalition argues that the mayor’s proposal for a 1,500 inmate jail at the Kew Gardens site— adjacent to Queens Borough Hall and the District Attorney’s Office— would be out of scale with the surrounding buildings and exacerbate traffic in the neighborhood.
Pistone said the mayor is calling for a “monster facility that’s totally out of scale with the neighborhood.”
The coalition intends to launch a public awareness campaign after the City holds a public hearing on the project next week, Pistone said.
The hearing, which will be held at Queens Borough Hall at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26, is part of the Environmental Review Process that is required for the site to be rezoned. The public will have the opportunity to hear more about the project and to ask questions.
The City needs to rezone the site for the jail expansion to move forward.
The group launched a petition against the jail on Sept. 18, and Pistone said the group and will begin to distribute fliers about the group’s concerns in coming weeks. He said the coalition knew that the City was considering reopening the jail, but was shocked as to the scale of the expansion.
While the existing structure is 497,600 square feet and housed about 500 inmates, the new facility would be 1,910,000 square feet and house 1,510 inmates.
The Kew Gardens Jail reopening is part of the mayor’s plan to close the massive Rikers Island jail complex, and replace it with four borough-based “community jails.” There would be a facility in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.
The mayor’s office argues that the new jails would be smaller and safer, and detainees would be housed closer to their lawyers, the courts and the community.
Pistone said that he is in favor of reforming the justice system; however, he said, jails should not be put in residential areas. He argues that the City should invest in the existing facilities on Rikers Island.
The coalition plans to put pressure on Council Member Karen Koslowitz and other elected officials to stop the project. Pistone said that he would like to see the project postponed until de Blasio’s term ends, so that the next mayoral election can become a referendum on community jails.
However, the jail has garnered the support of many local leaders, including Koslowitz. The council member was among the city officials to release a statement of support for the project after details about the jail were released on Aug. 15.
Although Koslowitz initially expressed reticence about the project, she agreed to back it if the city ceased to house the homeless at the Kew Gardens Comfort Inn, Koslowitz spokesperson Michael Cohen said earlier this year.
The city plans to move all of the homeless individuals out of the Comfort Inn in February, Cohen said today.
When asked if Koslowitz was aware of the size of the jail before the mayor’s plan was released, Cohen responded in a statement, “The Councilwoman anticipated that the new jail would be larger than the old Queens House of Detention, but was not aware of the exact number of units.”
Cohen said that Koslowitz encourages the community to engage in the review process.
According to Cohen, Koslowitz “urges all residents to become familiar with plan and voice their opinions and suggestions, if any.”