CB1 votes down Mott Haven jail; Arline Parks speaks out

CB1 votes down Mott Haven jail; Arline Parks speaks out
Parks (c) joins Borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr. in protesting the Mott Haven jail.
Schneps Media/ Alex Mitchell

Community Board 1’s Land Use Committee, on Thursday, May, 16 voted “no” on the city’s plan to build a 24 to 25 floor jail in Mott Haven at 745 E. 141st Street to replace the imminently closing Rikers Island’s prisons.

That motion was fairly predictable, given that Arline Parks, CEO of Diego Beekman Mutual Housing, a vicious opponent to the jail, is the chair of that committee.

On the evening prior to the vote, Parks participated in an information session at Lincoln Hospital with the board’s Land Use Committee. She used that opportunity to air her many grievances concerning the city’s jail proposal.

“What they are doing is not criminal justice reform,” Parks said. “Building a jail in a neighborhood that has historically been riddled with crime is not only wrong, but inhumane,” she continued, citing three federal narcotics raids since the 1990s, in addition to a major organized crime bust in 2016, plus a plethora of local drug busts.

Parks’ non-profit organization, Diego-Beekman, originally purchased several depressed properties for $80 years ago, and now the renovated housing structures are worth an estimated $300 million.

“We have been here though it all, we have stayed through it all and made Mott Haven a better place to live…nobody from the mayor’s administration was here during the very bad times, but now they want to take the good from the people and women that stuck it out,” Parks said.

The proposed jail is two miles from the Bronx Courthouse and the site is not adequately serviced by mass transit. She criticized the city’s suggestion to use the bus line running on nearby Cypress Avenue, calling the street “one of the most dangerous in Mott Haven and the city.”

“It’s dangerous conditions that made people leave the Bronx in the first place and I’m already seeing signs that people will leave Beekman and Mott Haven,” Parks said.

Besides opposing the proposal to construct the largest building in Mott Haven, let alone in the south Bronx, the jail would be built smack-dab in the middle of the Beekman’s properties.

Parks had planned to acquire the former NYPD tow yard to construct more housing before the city grabbed it.

Her plan for that land was to create mixed-income housing with a supermarket and community amenities, with apartments set aside for the homeless.

Parks said that including tenants of higher income in the new housing could cause a ripple effect that would turn East 138th Street into a vibrant retail corridor that in turn would bring economic stability to the Mott Haven neighborhood.

“I can’t shop on 138th Street as it is, it just isn’t safe,” Parks said.

After the city announced the plan, the administration approached Parks to collaborate on a housing complex near the jail.

“We told the city that as long as there wouldn’t be a jail we would help,” Parks said.

Currently, the city intends to build affordable housing on a portion of the jail parcel, which will include other community services.

“It’s essentially our housing plan but instead of a retail or manufacturing facility they’re building a jail,” Parks said.

CB1’s full board also unanimously voted down the city’s jail proposal on Thursday, May 23.

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