Mott Haven jail protestors occupy city’s public hearing

Mott Haven jail protestors occupy city’s public hearing
Parks (l) joins protestors during the public hearing.
Photo by Kasey Rodriguez

Enraged protestors occupied a public hearing for the proposed Mott Haven jail at the Bronx County Building on Wednesday, October 3.

Contuning a half-year long series of protests and opposition to the proposal, Bronxites raucously disrupted the public hearing in deffiance of the city’s plan.

“We can’t let them step all over us,” said one of the protestors, Lisa Ortega.

Ortega, a known Bronx housing and community advocate said that she along with much of the opposition supports the shutdown of Rikers Island, but does not believe that a jail should be built in Mott Haven.

“We need things to make the community better and stronger, not jails,” Ortega added.

Prior to and during the hearing, protestors joined Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. to send Mayor de Blasio a clear message.

“The administration must come to the table and engage with the community,” Diaz said. The borough president went on to explain that he also unequivocally supports the phasing out and shutting down of Rikers Island but that the selected Mott Haven site is inappropriate.

Diaz and Congressman Jose E. Serrano collaborated with Bronx community groups and social justice advocates forming ‘Justice for the Bronx,’ a coalition to stop the Mott Haven jail.

The political duo previously joined in a massive protest in front of the NYPD tow pound that would be converted into a jail, on Tuesday, May 1.

Something else that the borough president has taken exception to with is the lack of transparency and open communication that a public works project like this is due.

When the plan was initally made public last February, Diaz and his administration learned about it through second-hand means.

Even City Council Speaker Corey Johnson acknowledged the foggy communication at the time. “We have to do a better job at keeping him [Diaz] in the loop and the local community boards,” he said.

Since then, the city has held public information sessions regarding the proposed jail in addition to the October 3 public hearing.

None of which had received overall positive feedback, especially from the community board members that Johnson wants to improve a verbal relationship with.

One member of Community Board 1, Wally Nash, who has called Concord Avenue his home since his birth on November 21, 1944, said he would be face-to-face with the correctional facility if built.

Nash has opposed the jail from the get-go along with a distinct majority of CB1.

Diego Beekman Mutual Housing, a non-profit saving grace of Mott Haven had originally planned to acquire the lot, expanding their affordable housing services.

Beekman presented their plan to CB1 Thursday, May 31.

Said proposal would split the superblock containing the current tow pound into two halves, creating two distinct blocks, while expanding adjacent Wales Avenue as a vehicular street that would run through the new development down into East 141st Street.

Major parts of the redevelopment include converting the NYPD grounds and surrounding block into 533 housing units spread throughout 12 individual buildings.

After the city began eyeing the tow pound for a prison, it invited Diego Beekman to partner with it to create affordable housing on the site as well, according to Parks.

The next step in the uphill battle for the opposition is to have the proposed Mott Haven jail receive its own Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, separate from any other jail-related housing plan.

Currently, it’s bundled in with a broader ULURP for each of the new, community-based jails that would come per de Blasio’s phase out of Rikers Island.

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