NIMBY Now

City hits roadblock in siting a Rikers alternative in the Bronx

Development East News Urbanism
City hits roadblock in siting a Rikers alternative in the Bronx. Pictured: The Rafael Viñoly-designed Bronx Hall of Justice. (Courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects)

After Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration announced that it would be replacing the notorious Rikers Island jail with four smaller sites spread across the city, the city pledged that it would move swiftly to begin the public review process before the end of the year. Now, the rush to actually secure the listed sites has hit a snag as residents and politicians in the Bronx are pushing back against the construction of a jail there.

The move to close Rikers and spread inmates out across the city’s boroughs can only be accomplished by cutting the 9,000-inmate population in half, a target the administration is aiming for through bail and sentencing reform. Perkins Eastman, working with 17 subcontractors, has been tapped to master plan and maximize density at each of the new jails.

By spreading the remaining 5,000 inmates out to local jails, the city wants to cut down on administrative costs and centralize their facilities. But as Crain’s reports, the proposal to build (or reactivating) new jails in dense neighborhoods isn’t going over well.

In the Bronx, the city is angling to build a 25-story facility directly next to the Bronx Hall of Justice, which would put the prospective jail within walking distance of the B, D and 4 subway lines, and the Melrose Metro-North train station.

As Crain’s notes, while the location makes sense for lawyers and those awaiting trial along with their visiting families, the political interests at play could derail building on that plot. One part of the 100,000-square-foot site is owned by the city, while the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York owns the other two plots. As the feud between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo continues, it has become increasingly likely that the state government would initiate the required land transfer. City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson has also objected to building the jail in her district since the Hall of Justice is directly across the street from two public schools.

In a bid to speed up the process, all four sites will move through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) together as one project. As the environmental review could take up to four months alone, the city would need to move fast to secure all of their desired sites before the end of the year. If the Hall of Justice doesn’t pan out, the city may fall back on the more politically expedient site it had originally selected; an NYPD-owned tow pound at 320 Concord Avenue.

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