In January 2018, Mayor de Blasio announced a 10-year plan to close the Rikers Island Jail Complex and transfer its reduced jail population to new jails close to courthouses within the boroughs and nearer to the detainees’ families and attorneys. The plan followed upon the well-respected findings of the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, known as the Lippman Commission, whose 2017 report, “A More Just New York City,” condemned the conditions under which New Yorkers are held at Rikers Island. It advocated for reducing the city’s jail population through criminal justice reforms and creating safer and more humane jails, recognizing as well that 80% of those held in city jails have yet to be convicted of a crime.

The new Brooklyn jail would replace the existing Brooklyn Detention Center (275 Atlantic Avenue) at the juncture of Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights. Built in 1957, the BDC has a capacity for 800 detainees and is outmoded by modern prison standards.

Following the Mayor’s January announcement, Brooklyn’s local stakeholders, among which are the Brooklyn Heights Association, the Boerum Hill Association, the Cobble Hill Association, and the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, fully expected the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) to meet with the local communities and constructively engage with them in planning the new system. In March, the stakeholder coalition sponsored a Town Hall Meeting at which elected officials and representatives of the Lippman Commission addressed the Commission’s report. No City officials came to the meeting.

It was not until August 9th that MOCJ officials invited the local stakeholders to a stakeholder presentation, only for us to hear that the City was releasing on August 15th the Draft Scope of Work for a borough-based jail system to initiate the plan’s mandated environmental impact assessment. Given the short notice, it meant there would be no opportunity for the affected communities to help shape the plan to create four new jails, one in each borough except Staten Island, and each housing up to 1,510 detainees.

The Concerned Neighbors of the Brooklyn Detention Center, the name under which the coalition operates, objects to the utter lack of community engagement in the formulation of the plan. Furthermore, we have deep concerns about the gargantuan scale of the new jail, which at 1.4 million gross square foot on a 60,000 SF site, is the equivalent of a Floor Area Ratio of at least 20. This makes it larger than the 18 FAR proposed for the 80 Flatbush Avenue Project that has been the subject of intense community opposition in recent months.

The enormous size of the facility reflects not only a doubling of jail capacity at the site, but the space needed for a large number of civilian employees to provide medical and mental health services, education and re-entry counseling programs, and other supportive services, as well as reception areas for families, attorneys and other visitors.

It is important to emphasize that the coalition is fully supportive of the need to close Rikers Island and to have safer, state-of-the-art jails, with supportive services. We accept placing a new jail at 275 Atlantic Avenue. However, the proposed jail is simply too large for the site, and will impose considerable adverse impacts on the local communities with respect to traffic congestion, parking issues, shadows, and air pollution, among others. The plan is also silent with regard to the need for a training facility for correction officers to ensure that the culture of brutality within the jail system is also reformed, and that the problems that beset Rikers Island are not transferred to the new jails.

More importantly, we have a fundamental objection to being ignored by the planning process. As the position statement we have crafted indicates, we call for a halt to the planning process to afford communities in each of the boroughs the opportunity to engage in a meaningful way in the planning process and for the de Blasio Administration to respond to their concerns in good faith. We specifically call upon the City to consider having two new jails in each of the four boroughs, reducing the size of the current planned jail, and having one new jail on Staten Island.

 

About This Issue

2.4.3_BHA_TREE_SIGN_6163517zBrooklyn Heights boasts a relatively dense and healthy canopy of trees. In the summer of 2015, a tree census conducted by the BHA in cooperation with the NYC Parks Department found 1,245 sidewalk trees in a variety of species. The BHA has partnered with the NYC Parks Department in a multi-faceted approach to care for our neighborhood’s trees. In addition to advising residents about the importance of watering the trees in front of their buildings, especially during hot months, the BHA has arranged for the pruning of sidewalk trees, using funds contributed by film companies and donations by BHA members to the BHA Tree Fund. In 2014, the BHA paid for the planting of 19 new trees throughout the Heights. Periodically, we organize volunteers to conduct surveys to assess the condition of the neighborhood’s trees, most recently as part of the Parks Department’s 2015 Trees Count! 

BHA Tree pit enlargement Program

The BHA launched a program in Summer 2016 to encourage property owners to participate with the  BHA in enlarging undersized tree beds. They strangle tree roots, deprive street trees of needed water and nutrients, and cause the adjacent sidewalk to buckle.  This can result in the property owner getting a City violation and incurring the cost to repair the sidewalk.The undersized pits also undermine the well being of the trees, making them susceptible to disease and stunting their growth.

Under the program, the BHA will contribute up to 50% of the cost of the project’s estimated $500-$600 cost, find licensed contractors to perform the work, coordinate with the contractor and City agencies, and monitor the project.  Eligible projects involve trees whose pits are under 25 square feet, are situated within a concrete sidewalk, and for which the owner provides consent to the BHA.  Owners must be a BHA member prior to the start of the project.  

The BHA has identified hundreds of eligible tree pits. Interested property owners should write to the BHA at info@thebha.org or call the BHA office at 718-858-9193.  The BHA reserves the rights to select all qualifying projects.

Caring for street trees

Please visit the Parks Department Tree page for information on caring for and planting street trees. Planting flowers in the tree pits is allowed and encouraged no only to beautify the neighborhood, but also because flowers need frequent watering which will benefit the tree at the same time. Avoid building up soil around the base of the tree since moisture on the trunk could harm the tree.

The BHA sells metal “Please curb your dog” signs to encourage dog owners to mind the health of the trees by curbing their dogs. Dog waste is harmful to trees. Please call the office at 718-585-9193 or email info@thebha.org to purchase a sign.

See a Tree Problem? Let Us Know

Heights residents can ensure the continued beauty of our leafy streets by reporting any dangerous conditions involving trees and especially in the case of accidents. Should you witness damage to a street tree, act quickly to record the vehicle license plate, taking a photo and noting the exact location. Forward these facts to the BHA so we can notify the Parks Department, which can seek monetary compensation.  

Show Your Support for Our Trees

2.4.3_BHA_TREES_IMG_0636_BHA_planted treesIf you’d like to make a donation to the BHA’s Tree Fund, please go here. Thank you!

About This Issue

The volunteers.The Promenade Garden Conservancy (PGC) is a Public-Private Partnership between the BHA and the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). The PGC was established in 2009 to restore and maintain the 1/3-mile ribbon of parkland that borders the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

BHA Underwrites Half the Cost of a Full-time Gardener

The BHA supports 50% of the cost of a full-time gardener during the growing 2.4.2_Promenade_Gardens_11182319_827950697242692_5206500227742093696_nseason while DPR funds the balance. Matthew Morrow, the dedicated DPR gardener, is responsible for fertilizing and composting to enrich the soil, and to plant, prune and thin shrubs and perennials.  But one gardener alone cannot maintain a garden the size of the Promenade’s without help. The PGC provides that assistance through its stalwart corps of volunteers, one of the largest in the city, to keep the garden weed-free, well fed and blooming. From April to December, the volunteers contribute their efforts every Tuesday morning to beautify this portion of the Heights.

   

Interested in Volunteering?

2.4.2_Promenade-Garden-Conservancy-First-Day-04222014-46499Whether you’re a seasoned horticulturist or an absolute beginner, the PGC is looking for more volunteers.  You’ll be helping the Promenade Gardens keep their reputation as one of New York City’s most visited, admired and enjoyed public gardens.

For more information, please contact the Brooklyn Heights Association at 718-858-9193 or visit the PGC website.

Update

2.4.1_ISSUES_HELICOPTER_NOISE_ROSENTHAL_12250174_1051551718219009_6766088275468966212_nIn January 2016 the de Blasio Administration — to the great consternation and outrage of the affected communities — reached a closed-door agreement with the tourist helicopter industry to extend its lease for the Downtown Manhattan Heliport another five years and to eliminate the City’s right to terminate the lease within that period.

While it reduces the number of flights by January 2017 from 60,000 to 30,000 and bans all Sunday tourist flights over Governors Island, it maintains flights at a level that was already the source of widespread community opposition.  StoptheChop, the coalition advocating for the ban on all tourist flightes, strenuously objected to the Administration’s lack of consultation with affected communities and their elected officials. It also questioned the industry’s commitment to report truthfully on its operations.

Not to be deterred by the new restrictions, the helicopter industry sought to build a heliport in Yonkers so that it could operate tourist flights outside the bounds of the NYC agreement.  With concerted advocacy by StoptheChop, the BHA, Yonkers residents and others, the Yonkers City Council voted down the proposed heliport in June 2016, thus blocking the industry’s maneuver.  Critics of the industry fear that it will seek an alternate heliport site in Westchester County to evade the new restrictions.  

About This Issue

With the closing of the West 30th Street Heliport in 2010, all sightseeing helicopter operations in New York City were moved to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, directly across the East River from the Promenade.  Since then, helicopter noise has become an increasing and incessant problem for Heights residents, as well as for waterfront communities throughout the city.  Their noise permeates into our parks and homes, diminishing city residents’ ability to work, sleep and enjoy their communities.

A 600% Increase in Flights

The complaints about helicopter noise reflect the tremendous growth of their operations from 10,000 flights annually in 2002 to 60,000 currently, 80% of which serve tourists.  On peak days, 3 to 6 helicopters are in the air at the same time.

The New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection held a public hearing November 12, 2015, on Intro 858-2015 and 859-2015, two bills that would prohibit Stage 1 and Stage 2 sightseeing helicopters, the loudest and most polluting helicopter types in operation, and ban Stage 3 helicopters subject to approval by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The operation of emergency, military, business and news helicopters would not be affected.  At the hearing, NYC Economic Development Corporation officials revealed that the City receives little net income from the lease of the heliport and admitted that EDC had not undertaken an independent study of noise impacts despite years of public protest.

 

Learn More

 See “A Plague of Helicopters Is Ruining New York,” a New York Times Op Ed by former New York City parks commissioner Adrian Benepe and Merritt Birnbaum, executive director of Governors Island Alliance.