Feb. 21, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Two Queens neighborhood associations have filed suit against New York City to challenge the mayor’s plan to construct a 19-story jail in Kew Gardens.
Queens Residents United and the Community Preservation Coalition jointly filed an Article 78 proceeding in New York Supreme Court Tuesday. An Article 78 suit is used to overturn state or local government policy.
The two groups condemn the city’s plan to close Rikers Island by 2026 and replace it with four borough-based jails — including one that will go up on the site of the decommissioned Queens Detention facility at 182-02 82nd Ave. in Kew Gardens.
The groups argue that the City didn’t follow its own laws and procedures in approving the plan and therefore it should be stopped.
“City officials presented the Kew Gardens jail project as a ‘done deal’ before the environmental studies even began,” said Joseph Faraldo, spokesperson for Queens Residents United.
“In the case of the borough-based jails, in Queens and throughout the City, the government relied on fanciful assumptions, cut corners, broke rules, and short-circuited processes designed to inform City residents and give them a voice in shaping their own communities,” the Article 78 suit states.
The groups argue that the City willfully disregarded and made “active attempts to circumvent” the requirements of the land use review process known as Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) — as well as the City Environmental Quality Review Act (CEQRA), which reviews the environmental and socioeconomic factors of an infrastructure project.
The suit also alleges that the City failed to engage and consider the public’s feedback during the approval process.
The City Council voted to approve the plan on Oct. 17, despite all four community boards where the jails will be sited rejecting it. Queens Community Board 9 unanimously voted against the plan, noting that large jails shouldn’t go up in residential areas.
The City “neglected, disregarded, or even actively sought to avoid the input of the public,” the neighborhood groups say in the suit.
The City limited community input by making neighborhood advisory committee meetings “invitation-only” — closed to the public and media, said Dominick Pistone, spokesperson for the Community Preservation Coalition.
“Indeed, City officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, bragged about cutting corners, as if the City did a good thing by failing to engage its public as the law said it must have done,” the suit adds.
The groups’ major point is that the entire borough-based plan went through the ULURP and CEQRA processes as a single application, rather than each proposed jail facility being reviewed individually.
“They improperly combined the land-use review for four massive borough-based jails into a single, one-size-fits-all proposal to accelerate approvals and avoid meaningful public discussion and debate over the scope, cost and implementation of these projects.”
Instead the City chose “to ram through a Frankenstein-stitched, one-size-fits all proposal for facilities in four boroughs,” the suit adds.
The filing comes just weeks after two similar suits were filed by groups representing the Bronx and Manhattan communities slated for jail facilities under the city’s plan.