In a meeting with officials from the Mayor’s Office, Department of Corrections and the Department of Design and Construction last Thursday in Kew Gardens, community representatives raised concerns regarding the city’s process.
When the Mayor’s Office unveiled plans to close the detention facility on Rikers Island and build four borough-based jails in its place, the city simultaneously formed local input committees in the communities where the new structures will be placed: Mott Haven, Boerum Hill, Chinatown and Kew Gardens.
As a part of the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure (ULURP), these Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NAC) were designed as forums for contribution from communities that will be directly impacted by the facilities.
A statement by the de Blasio administration describes NACs as “core to the city’s strategy,” gaining feedback on “design, program, neighborhood integration and tackle a range of quality of life concerns within the neighborhoods where these sites will be located."
Each borough’s committee has held six or seven meetings to date, beginning from the start of the process when plans were announced in August of 2018.
This latest meeting of the Kew Gardens NAC exists in a different frame, however, as it is the first time members are meeting with the officials since the City Council voted in favor of the $8.7 billion project in October.
Construction on the facility is set to begin in 2023 and it must be occupied by the end of 2026, when Riker’s will officially close.
Seated around a long table inside the Kew Gardens Community Center, the city acknowledged that the borough-based jail plan will be paid for through the sale of bonds.
NAC members claimed they had been asking about funding for years with no clear answer, and were quick to point out the interest on bonds that would inevitably add to the cost.
The city’s presentation went into details about available parking spaces, projected timelines for construction and vague details of features that may be included in the structure.
Residents repeatedly expressed frustration with the smoke-and-mirrors technique they believe the city is using to move the project along.
A particular point of contention was the facility’s stature, which has now been reduced to 195 feet (19 stories), a height that does not include the rooftop mechanics.
“There’s so much talk and spin,” one NAC member said. “This presentation could probably have been four slides, because once again we’re not seeing any representation of what the actual project is.
“And that’s because it hasn't been designed yet, which therein lies the issue with the ULURP process,” the member continued. “It’s a force fit to certify a project that doesn’t exist.”
During Thursday night’s presentation, officials explained that the design guidelines for borough-based jails will be reflective of comments received in meetings with NACs and community boards.
Going forward, the city will hold design workshops aimed at gathering neighborhood opinion on cosmetic aspects of the facility such as streetscape, building fronts and layout of the future jail’s ground floor lobby.
Though they appreciate the effort to reach out, members of Kew Gardens NAC are not satisfied with the city’s lack of clear response to inquiries and consistent opposition the committee expressed from the beginning.
“There has been no community input on this project from day one,” said another NAC member. “These meetings are so that people can check boxes, and the mayor’s office can say they met with the community. Yes you have, but you didn't listen to us.”