Hunts Point jail remains on hold

Crucial hearing postponed again

By Joe Hirsch

A court hearing that could determine whether the city will be permitted to build a new 2,000-bed jail in Hunts Point has been postponed for a second time, leaving an order preventing the Department of Correction from moving forward with the plan in place.

The hearing, scheduled for July 24 in federal bankruptcy court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, has been rescheduled for Oct. 2 to allow lawyers additional time to work on the case.

Connecticut-based Britestarr Homes Inc., which owns 28 acres of undeveloped land in the former Oak Point rail yard, contends that New York City officials are trying to use eminent domain laws to keep the value of the property artificially low.

The city announced in April 2006 its intention to build a jail on the site to replace substandard jail space on Rikers Island that a federal judge has ordered eliminated. howver, Britestarr’s owner Steven Smith argues that by condemning the property the city has limited its sale price and reneged on an agreement permitting the company to sell the land for whatever the market will bear.

In an interview last spring, shortly after winning the court order preventing the city from moving forward, he said two potential buyers had dropped out of negotiations once the city announced its plan.

Some Bronx-based opponents of the city’s plan to construct the jail think the city is not only trying to manipulate the price of the property, but to stifle opposition.

“We’ve put in several FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for the files, but the city has dragged their feet,” said Miquela Craytor, deputy director of Sustainable South Bronx, a Hunts Point-based organization that opposes the jail. “It’s hard not to be skeptical when the city is dragging its feet rather than doing due diligence.”

Craytor claims that the Department of Correction and the city’s Economic Development Corporation have sandbagged her organization’s attempts to obtain documents that could cast a negative light on the city’s plan. In contrast, Craytor says, other city agencies have been more forthcoming with documents pertaining to the project.

“Other agencies are giving us what we’ve asked for because they’re less close to the project,” Craytor said. The corrections department and the EDC “are well aware of the negative perception the project has in the community.”

 Since the court imposed its restraining order, the Department of Correction has made it a policy not to comment on the jail plan, citing the litigation as a reason.

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