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‘House’ divided! Brooklyn jail will reopen, but not double in size

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The city has scrapped a plan to double the size of the Brooklyn House of Detention in Boerum Hill — but did vow last week to get the 759-bed jail operating at full capacity within a year.

In a surprise move, the Department of Correction ended its controversial $440-million expansion plan for the facility at Smith Street and Atlantic Avenue — opting for the very thing that the city had argued against all along: an expanded jail on Rikers Island.

The city now says that its new plan will cost taxpayers $415-million less than expanding the Brooklyn and Queens locations together.

“This plan allows us to build critically needed capacity and support space faster and less expensively, with less uncertainty over land-use issues and with lower construction and operating costs,” said Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro. “It is the highest and best use of existing facilities, and it conserves valuable city land for other purposes.”

The announcement comes as a relief for those who were concerned about an expanded jail in an already tight footprint. And it puts to rest a bitter political fight that became tied up in last year’s mayoral battle. Then-Comptroller Bill Thompson had blocked Mayor Bloomberg’s hiring of a firm to design the expanded jail, so the mayor sued him.

But Thompson lost the election and, just before leaving office, he quietly rubber-stamped the design contract.

The city’s latest decision to reopen the jail, yet not expand it, comes with some downside: the expansion plan did call for retail on the ground floor of the dead space not only on the block between Smith Street and Boerum Place, but also on the sides of the building.

“One of the sweeteners … was putting retail on the bottom floor façade,” said Rob Perris, district manager of Community Board 2, which opposed the expansion plan, but liked the retail space. “At the time of our vote, we focused on the expansion. But the space could have been a positive development to maintain retail continuity on Atlantic Avenue.”

Perris said that CB2 wasn’t consulted about the new plans to fill the House of D, but Correction spokeswoman Sharman Stein promised that a community advisory group would be set up to consult about what’s going to happen over the next year. It’s unclear who will be on that panel.

In the meantime, the Department of Correction will move ahead with a new $660-million facility on Rikers Island, which won’t be completed until 2017, long after the Brooklyn location is filled out next year, Stein said.

Updated 1:30 am, August 20, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Fred says:
I can't wait to meet all my new neighbors from the jail. Downtown Brooklyn sure is a great place to be.
Aug. 16, 2010, 7:01 am

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