Mott Haven jail opponents accuse CPC member of conflict

Mott Haven jail opponents accuse CPC member of conflict
Arline Parks speaks at a hearing regarding the Mott Haven jail.
Michael Carlo

Combatants of the Mott Haven jail plan at 320 Concord Avenue have found what they describe as yet another flaw in the mayor’s aim to phase out Rikers Island by 2026-27.

One member on the City Planning Commission Board whose responsible is to help determine how NYC goes about building the proposed 24-story jail in the south Bronx was also a member of the mayor’s ‘Close Rikers’ task force.

Bronx opponents to the jail tower criticized CPC Comissioner David Burney’s involvement with both of these projects, calling it a conflict of interest while demanding that the board member recuse himself from the jail’s land use proceedings.

“How can an architect of the city’s controversial jail plan now be trusted to objectively vote on that same plan,” questioned Arline Parks, CEO of neighboring Diego Beekman housing, which would surround the housing complex upon its completion.

The mayor personally appointed Burney to the jail commission last March, following approval from the City Council.

“This is just more evidence that the de Blasio administration’s plan to burden a low-income community of color with a jail has been rigged from the beginning,” she continued.

Parks and Beekman had previously sued the city over its proceedings with the jail plan. Their legal team is also critical Burney’s dual influence.

“You cannot objectively evaluate a project you were involved in planning,” said attorney Adam Stein, adding, “Commissioner Burney must recuse himself from this vote if the city wishes to pursue a fair process.”

That commission holds power to either forward the proposal’s land use proceedings to the City Council or could reject it. A rejection would require the city to restart the process or to change its plans and resubmit.

In response, a city law department spokesperson said “nothing has changed with respect to the Borough-Based Jails application or Commissioner Burney’s involvement. As previously stated by Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci, there is no reason for Commissioner Burney to recuse on this matter.”

According to that spokesperson, Burney will also be uninvolved with the tast force voluntarily for “the foreseeable future” through the land use review and has not been since last year.

Many politicians and community leaders, including Borough President Ruben, Diaz, Jr. have said that the plan to phase out Rikers Island is being pushed through for political expediency more than for proper criminal justice reform.

“We have another eight years before Rikers Island is estimated to be closed.

We can afford to take another year to do this right for the Bronx,” Diaz said to the CPC during a hearing on Wednesday, July 10.

“The administration still has not explained why it needs a facility that would allot over 1,000 square feet per detainee, particularly when modern jails are being built elsewhere at a third of the size,” Diaz also said.

He also criticized the city’s readiness to move forward with the plan, saying that there’s no actual program or design for this facility.

“How can we be asked to approve a jail in our community when the administration itself admits it doesn’t know what it will really look like?” Diaz questioned.

As of that CPC hearing which Diaz and Parks testified at, the commission was required to render a decision on the borough based jails within 60 days.

“From ignoring community concerns, to combining four separate jail sites into one land use process, the de Blasio administration’s willingness to game the system in order to achieve its own political goals is appalling,” Parks said following the hearing.

Experts close to the situation anticipate that CPC’s deliberations will be finalized sometime in August.

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