A pedestrian-friendly detail in the city’s proposal to reopen and expand the House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue has ignited a storm of opposition.
Residents who live in a brownstone-lined block adjacent to the 11-story jail on the corner of Smith Street in Boerum Hill, say that Department of Correction officials could hurt the very people they say they want to help if they move forward with a plan to close State Street to cars between Smith Street and Boerum Place.
The street closure — one of several design proposals now under review by city planners — would create a pedestrian plaza with benches and planters between the jail and the Brooklyn Criminal Court building.
The car-free “Criminal Justice Plaza” is meant to cut down on the amount of traffic and double-parked vehicles that surround the municipal buildings and cause friction between people who live in the neighborhood and people who use the buildings. Residents say that they fear the closure would bring too many people to the street and create another kind of unwelcome traffic.
“It’s not a fit for the neighborhood,” said Arlene Jennings, who bought a historic rowhouse on State Street between Hoyt and Smith streets three-and-a-half years ago and opposes all elements of the jail’s reopening.
“If there was a wall separating the residential area from the jail that would be one thing but bringing more pedestrian density to the area is a mistake,” she said.
Other residents echoed Jenning’s sentiments at a public meeting about the jail’s reopening held in June.
“They are scared that that people will loiter there and sleep on the benches,” said Leslie Lewis, President of the 84th Precinct Community Council. Lewis believes the fears are unfounded because of the amount of police supervision at the site.
“[The plaza will be] between a prison and a criminal court, people will look after it,” he said.