Community Board 1 members and Astorians questioned city officials Jan. 8 on what the fate of Rikers Island would be if a proposed change to the city map to ban jails there is authorized.
“What could possibly go there under this designation?” asked Elizabeth Erion, CB 1’s Land Use Committee co-chairwoman, at the meeting of the panel.
The city’s Office of Criminal Justice, Department of Corrections and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) in December filed a land-use application to change Rikers’ designation from commercial and manufacturing to a “public place,” which would ensure the island could never house a jail again.
A public place, explained Blake Montieth, a borough planner with the Department of City Planning, means the island could be used in a variety of ways, depending on what the city determines the surrounding area needs.
The only other example of a public place in Queens is Fort Totten, which besides being used as a park is also a military training site and houses city Fire Department facilities are also housed there.
The zoning designation for the island could also be changed in the future, but that would require another land-use proceeding. Responding to residents and board members, Montieth said the fate of the island is unknown right now.
“The future use of this island has not been determined yet,” Montieth said.
While some residents questioned whether it would be turned into an extension of LaGuardia Airport, and others wondered if housing would be built there, some demanded the city use the island to build a memorial to those who suffered injustices at Rikers’ jails.
“There should be some effort made to remember them,” said Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Tenants Association, who was applauded by some in the audience.
The Rikers jail complex is set to shutter in 2026, and be replaced with smaller borough-based jails in every borough except Staten Island. One of the many reasons why is that Rikers has become a hostile environment, according to city officials, with soaring violence rates among inmates, which has caused injuries to guards.
Furthermore, several prison guards have been convicted of either killing inmates or neglecting their health until they died.
Rikers Island itself is technically in the Bronx, and all crimes committed there are prosecuted by the Bronx district attorney, but because the bridge to get there falls in Astoria its Land Use jurisdiction falls under the purview of CB 1. No vote was taken at the Jan. 8 meeting.
A full vote will be taken by the board at its Jan. 21 meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Astoria World Manor, 25-22 Astoria Blvd.