The city brushed aside widespread opposition to its plan to reopen and double the size of the controversial Brooklyn House of Detention by hiring architects to begin the conversion.
The return of an 11-story jail on gentrifying Atlantic Avenue — across the street from a new boutique hotel, new homes and a booming Smith Street — moved ahead last Thursday when the Department of Design and Construction inked a $32.5-million deal to hire Manhattan architecture firm Ricci Greene Associates to transform the prison into a 1,469-inmate facility with ground-floor shopping.
Foes said they would fight the project — in the public review process (if there is one) and in court (if there is not).
“If the city proceeds without going through a full environmental review or ULURP [the uniform land-use review procedure that is required for all new or altered use of of a property], it will face lawsuits,” said attorney Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor who is representing residents and merchants.
A time-consuming public review or lawsuit could entangle the lame-duck administration until a new mayor takes the helm in 2010, which might kill the jail expansion plan.
“Only the current administration supports this project,” said Mastro. “So many others have come out four-square against it.”
The run-out-the-clock strategy might fall flat because the Department of Correction could possibly reopen the jail before finishing the $440-million expansion.
“It’s unclear if we would reopen the Brooklyn Detention Center before the renovation is complete,” said Stephen Morello, a deputy commissioner at the agency.
The city is pushing to reopen the jail, which closed in 2003, on the grounds that it is more efficient to have prisoners in Downtown Brooklyn — near the courts and their lawyers — and it is better public policy to make it easier for families to visit the incarcerated, who currently await trial on remote Rikers Island.
That argument rings hollow to elected officials representing residents and businesses near jail, which is between Smith Street and Boerum Place.
“If the Department of Correction is concerned with community sentiment and building a good relationship with the community, they’re not showing it by flagrantly moving forward with this project,” said Jake Maguire, a spokesman for Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights).