April 8, 2019 By Meghan Sackman
Kew Gardens and Forest Hills residents will be rallying this Saturday to protest the city’s plan to develop the Queens Detention Complex into a 27-story “mega-jail,” as part of the Mayor’s goal to replace Rikers Island with four borough based jails.
The protest, organized by Nancy and Eric Horn, members of the grassroots group No Kew Gardens, will take place on April 13 at 1 p.m. outside Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd.
The protest was organized in response to the NYC City Planning Commission certifying the mayor’s ULURP application, moving the project to build the jails into the seven-month public review process. The four jail sites all need to be rezoned in order for them to be built, requiring public review.
The ULURP application calls for four community-based jails–including one in Kew Gardens–each housing 1,437 inmates.
The city’s latest plan for the Kew Gardens jail involves building a 1.3 million square foot center, which would be 27 stories high, over the Queens Borough Hall parking lot and where the dormant Queens Detention Complex is located.
The Kew Gardens facility would also have an infirmary that would serve all the inmates in the jail system and include space for community facilities and retail use, like the three other jails.
A large number of Kew Gardens residents oppose the plan, which civic leaders say they were not informed of until de Blasio announced it at a press conference on Aug. 15. The mayor aims to shut down Rikers Island, reduce the prison population down from 8,000 to 5,000 and house the inmates in the four community-based jails–including Kew Gardens.
Eric Horn, an organizer, is critical of the city’s decision to build the jail in a residential neighborhood. He said that the mayor didn’t consult the community prior to the announcement; didn’t look at any other potential sites in Queens for a jail; and questions the city’s ability to reduce the prison population to a level where there are enough prison cells.
“The city chose to place the jail in a residential neighborhood with three schools that will be in very close proximity to this new building,” Horn said.
Horn suggested a more spacious and industrial location such as Willets Point. Horn said the city could have chosen a place like this but didn’t because it would have had to deal with private property owners instead of using land it already owns.
“They are going for the most expedient solution but not the best thing for the community or even the prisoners,” Horn said.
Horn also pointed out that the “skyscraper prison” will actually cast a shadow over many residents’ homes, and noted that residents will also be disturbed by ambulances coming in and out of the planned infirmary.
Horn also said the plan to get the prison population from 8,000 to 5,000–in order to house the inmates– is a stretch, and that it will likely result in the need for even more locally based jails.
“Crime is going down now, but that doesn’t mean the trajectory won’t change,” Horn said “There’s a lot of assumptions in place for this to actually work.”
Horn’s group has invited members of Community Board 6 to the rally, as well as Congress Member Grace Meng and Borough President Melinda Katz.
The protestors are not inviting Council Member Karen Koslowitz since she has not rejected the plan outright. Koslowitz has said that she wants a seat at the table when it comes to making plan modifications, which she said she would forfeit by being an outspoken critic.
“We don’t think the councilmember has our best interest at heart,” Horn said.