April 17, 2019 By Christian Murray
Residents will get to have their say on the city’s plan to develop a 26-story jail facility in Kew Gardens at a public hearing next week.
Community Board 9 is holding the hearing, which is part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which the city must complete before it can break ground on the 1,437-inmate jail.
The hearing will address the proposed Kew Gardens jail as well as three other borough-based jails that the city plans to develop. The city plans to rezone all four sites as one ULURP application.
The hearing is scheduled for April 24, at 7 p.m., in the Helen Marshall Center at Queens Borough Hall.
James McClelland, district manager for Community Board 9, anticipates that about 300 people will attend based on the numbers that went to the public hearing held by Community Board 2 in Brooklyn on April 11, where another borough-based jail is planned.
“They had about 300 people and it was without incident,” McClelland said. “My guess it will be about the same.”
The Community Board will use the public hearing as a gauge for when it votes on the plan. The community board has until June 3 to vote, McClelland said.
The vote is merely an advisory opinion and is likely to have little impact. The board passed a resolution by a vote of 34-0 on March 12 that opposed the city starting the ULURP rezoning process in the first place. The process started on March 25, when the City Planning Commission certified the plans.
Once the board has voted on the plan, Borough President Melinda Katz will then have 30 days to hold a public hearing and make a non-binding recommendation.
The City Planning Commission will then have 60 days to host a public hearing, make some modifications and vote on the plan. The City Council will then have 50 days to review and vote.
Council Member Karen Koslowitz has not come out in opposition to the plan. She views it as a done-deal and says that by remaining neutral she still has a seat at the table in shaping the plan. For example, the initial plan was for a 29 story jail—which has been shaved down to 26 stories.
The Mayor committed in 2017 to close the Rikers Island complex by 2027 and reduce the number of inmates from 8,200 to 5,500 through criminal justice reform. The reduction is necessary, since the plan calls for four borough-based jails, each with room for 1,437 inmates.
The argument, based on the April 2017 recommendations of the Lippman Commission, is that Rikers Island has a history of violence and is located far away from inmates’ families, attorneys and courts. It has been described as a modern-day penal colony.
The smaller borough-based jails would result in inmates being closer to their families, attorneys, courts, medical and mental health care.
The plan has been panned by outgoing Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown as an unnecessary expense–costing as much as $30 billion. He questions whether the city can guarantee that it will have enough space to house the inmates and advocates rebuilding Rikers Island, instead of closing it.
Many Kew Gardens residents agree with Brown and held a rally on Saturday in opposition to de Blasio’s plan. Hundreds gathered at Queens Borough Hall and expressed their outrage.