A group of neighborhood and business groups opposed to the reopening and expansion of the House of Detention at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn are expanding their opposition as the city moves closer to expanding the now-shuttered jail.
A group calling itself the Brooklyn House of Detention Community Stakeholders Group has launched a Web site for the issue, announcing their labors today with their very first press release.
Opening a jail is never easy—Brooklyn community groups are known to fight large high-end condo projects with a passion, and those usually aren’t filled with alleged felons (and often boost nearby property values).
The city once envisioned bookending the expanded jail, which could hold 1,400 beds, with condos or office development that would help subsidize the jail’s construction. Though only one developer appeared to respond (a venture including Time Equities; PDF file here), with a proposal that the city didn’t think would work (likely because it involved demolishing the existing structure, which for a variety of reasons, the city says would make for a more expensive overall project).
The city wants to reopen and expand the jail (with retail!) as part of its effort to close aging facilities on Rikers Island, and to move the jail-residing population from a secluded island to areas near courthouses.
CITY WITHHOLDS VISIONARY PLAN FOR BROOKLYN HOUSE OF DETENTION:
COMMUNITY CALLS FOR OFFICIAL TASK FORCE TO PLAN FOR SITE,
LAUNCHES HOD INFORMATION WEB SITE
March 19, 2008 – The House of Detention (HOD) Stakeholders, a consortium of community organizations, has called for a Task Force to be formed of community organizations and elected officials to plan for the future of the HOD site. The call for action comes at a crucial time as it has recently come to light that a plan exists which provides a welcome new vision for use of the HOD location. The Stakeholders also announced the launch of their Web site, www.brooklynjail.org, to keep the community informed of the ongoing struggle against expansion of the Brooklyn House of Detention by the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC).
The plan, Atlantic Gateway, a Vision for the Brooklyn House of Detention, was submitted by Common Ground Community/Hamlin Ventures/Time Equities, Inc., in response to the Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) in July 2007. It has been blocked from community review and deemed “non-responsive” by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the DOC, even as the Stakeholders have continuously pushed for a role in the discussions as promised them by DOC Commissioner Martin F. Horn.
Although the Stakeholders are not endorsing the Atlantic Gateway proposal, they feel strongly that it incorporates intelligent solutions across multiple dimensions: service to the judicial process, affordable housing, and Atlantic Avenue retail; and it addresses longstanding quality of life issues for neighborhood residents. What the plan does not propose is adding on to an already outsized jail facility standing at the gateway to Brooklyn in sharp contrast to the renaissance of the surrounding area since the jail closed its doors in 2003.
Elected officials addressing Mayor Bloomberg in a letter dated February 22, 2008, wrote, “Regarding the challenges of managing the functions of DOC, we believe that given the many new residential developments surrounding the HOD, an expanded facility would be a burden to our constituents. In fact, a more prominent HOD at this location would further scar this gateway in a burgeoning Downtown Brooklyn.” Sandy Balboza, President of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, said, “Atlantic Gateway, a Vision for the Brooklyn House of Detention, is a step in the right direction. It is a serious plan that deserves consideration.” The President of the Boerum Hill Association, Sue Wolfe, commented, “Our local elected officials have all rejected any idea of HOD expansion. Even if the jail were to open ‘as-is,’ there are a variety of quality of life issues which need to be addressed. We need to keep everyone informed.”
The rejected Atlantic Gateway plan is posted at www.brooklynjail.org. The Web site will be a vital, interactive source of information and communication about the HOD. It will present press summaries and links to local archival articles as well as blog space for residents to voice their opinions. Community comments and opinions are seen as essential to building consensus to stop the expansion. There is already considerable blogging activity about the HOD project on other neighborhood Web sites.
The Stakeholders group consists of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation, 53 Boerum Place Condominium, the Boerum Hill Association, Brooklyn Vision Foundation, Cobble Hill Association, and State Street Houses Association.