Brewer to Host Town Hall Meeting Tonight on de Blasio Jail Plan
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: “No project this sweeping should ever go forward without robust input and involvement from the surrounding community’s residents, businesses, civic organizations and service providers.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host a Town Hall meeting tonight (Tuesday, June 11) to give constituents a chance to advise her about whether to support or oppose the plan by Mayor Bill de Blasio to build a new, 1.2 million-square-foot jail complex on White Street, slated to rise 45 stories and house more than 1,400 prisoners.
The meeting, which will begin at 6:00 pm, will be held at the Student Center of Pace University, located at One Place Plaza, located across the street from City Hall and along the south side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Admission is free, but space is limited, so attendees (who can sign up to speak) will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Tonight’s meeting represents a critical juncture in the process of obtaining legal approval for City Hall’s plan for the new jail. It comes on the heels of a stinging rebuke from Community Board 1 (CB1), which passed a resolution at its May 28 meeting recommending that the City Planning Commission veto the proposal. This resolution was based, in part, on what CB1 called an, “opaque site selection and lack of community input,” while calling the proposed structure, “grossly out of scale.”
The City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) entails six stepsfor any proposed use of publicly owned land, such as the White Street location of the current Manhattan Detention Complex, where the de Blasio administration plans to build the new jail. The first of these was certification by the City Planning Commission of the application. Next came the verdict rendered by CB1 (following a similar resolution, by Community Board 3), which is legally required, but advisory. The third step is approval (of rejection) by the Borough President.
Ms. Brewer has said that she plans to issue her determination (which, like that of the CB1 and CB3, is non-binding) in early July. Although Ms. Brewer has not yet indicated where she will land on this issue, she has been a persistent critic of the de Blasio administration’s approach to community engagement. In September, she decried, “the administration’s disappointing rush to scope the project without adequate community input,” while also noting that, “an expanded detention complex in Lower Manhattan is necessary, but no project this sweeping should ever go forward without robust input and involvement from the surrounding community’s residents, businesses, civic organizations and service providers.”
A rendering that illustrates the bulk and shape of the new, 1.2 million-square-foot prison complex that Mayor Bill de Blasio proposes to erect in Lower Manhattan.
In November, when City Hall abandoned an earlier plan to locate the new jail on Centre Street, she said, “the administration needed to change course on the location for the new facility, but the core problem here was that City Hall wanted to announce its plan before engaging with the community on how to craft it. I hope that in the coming weeks and months, City Hall will engage in a more bottom-up process that builds support in Chinatown and Lower Manhattan, makes people feel like they were actually heard, and improves the plan — instead of repeating the mistakes that got us here.” She added, “it’s not too much to ask that we restart the process, actually listen to the community, and get the land use part of this right. The mayor must take the time to actually listen to what the neighborhood has to say, minimize the bad, and maximize the good.”
Even if Mr. de Blasio’s plan is rejected by Ms. Brewer, ULURP can proceed to the fourth step: review by the City Planning Commission. This body does have the legal authority to stop a proposal such as the de Blasio plan, provided that it weighs in within 60 days. But because a majority of its 13 members are appointed by the Mayor, approval appears to be a fait accompli.
The next meaningful chance to consider the plan comes in the fifth segment of ULURP, review by the City Council. Here, the outcome has the force of law, but is difficult to predict. By tradition, the Council as a whole defers to the member within whose district a land use proposal falls. Council member Margaret Chin, while supportive of criminal-justice reform, has expressed serious skepticism about the Mayor’s vision for a new jail in Lower Manhattan. But, in a high-profile push such as the one mounted by the de Blasio Administration, it is possible that other Council members may be successfully lobbied by City Hall to ignore convention and support the plan, regardless of how Ms. Chin votes. The City Council has 50 days to accept or reject the proposal.
The sixth, and final, step in ULURP is Mayoral Review. If the jail plan successfully runs each of the first five gauntlets in the process, however, approval by City Hall is a virtual certainty. All of these steps, in the aggregate, can take a maximum of 205 days — with some extensions possible if one or more steps must be repeated. This would peg the final decision for sometime in October of this year. But ULURP can also proceed much faster, and multiple published accounts say the de Blasio Administration is hoping to have final ULURP approvals in place by this summer.
In the meantime, however, the Town Hall meeting that Ms. Brewer will host this evening may play a pivotal role in whether she ultimately gives her support to the plan for a massive new jail in Lower Manhattan, and decides to oppose it.
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