A New York judge on Thursday tossed a lawsuit filed by a pair of Queens civic groups attempting to block the construction of a new jail in Kew Gardens.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower said the city met environmental review standards, public comment rules and land use laws as it sought approval to build the 195-foot detention tower behind the Queens Criminal Courthouse as part of its four-borough jail plan.
The council approved the city’s land use application for the jails — the first proposal to roll non-contiguous sites in multiple boroughs into a single package — in October 2019. Rakower said the city’s Universal Law Use Review Procedure allowed for such an application.
“A single ULURP review of the four borough-based jail sites was lawful and rational,” Rakower wrote in her decision to dismiss the lawsuit. The city, she added. “reasonably deemed that the multi-borough review should be consolidated.”
Two civic groups, Queens Residents United and the Community Preservation Coalition, had filed the Article 78 lawsuit in September 2020 in a last-ditch effort to block the new jail, set to rise on the site of the soon-to-be demolished Queens House of Detention at 126-02 82nd Ave. Neither group responded to requests for comment Thursday. They can appeal the decision.
A spokesperson for the New York City Law Department praised the judge’s decision.
“We are pleased that the Court rejected the challenge to the Queens Borough-based jail, just as courts have thrown out challenges to jails in the Bronx and Manhattan,” the spokesperson said. “This decision will help the City to finally close Rikers Island and make our jail system smaller, safer, and fairer.”
“Closing the dysfunctional, shameful jails on Rikers Island is an urgent moral imperative, today more than ever,” said former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who chaired a commission that recommended closing Rikers Island jails.
“As the courts consider technical land use issues on appeal, the city should press forward on policies that rely on jail only as a last resort, continue planning for a smaller borough jail system, and begin preparing for a green future for Rikers.”