Appeals Court Oks New Chinatown Jail. 'We're All Furious,' Opponents Say

Jan Lee, co-founder of Neighbors United Below Canal, speaks outside the Manhattan Detention Complex. He and others denounced an appeals court decision that allows the years-long demolition of the jail complex at 124 and 125 White Street and building of a new jail tower on the site. Lee was joined by several candidates for city-wide offices. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Apr. 02, 2021

A court has dashed the hopes of opponents seeking to stop the city’s plan to build a new jail tower on the edge of Chinatown. 

In a decision on Monday by the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, the city won a reversal of a lower State Supreme Court judge’s ruling last September that had halted the city from beginning its demolition of the Manhattan Detention Complex at 124 and 125 White Street and construction of a single, 295-foot-high tower that spans the two sites.

The petitioners in the suit, led by Neighbors United Below Canal, claimed the city acted illegally when it changed the site of the new jail without revising the scope of its environmental review. 

“Under the particular circumstances of this case, the scoping process did not have to be redone,” the appellate judges said in their decision, noting that the city had already “performed each of the required steps” of an environment review and a new review would have been “redundant.”

“We’re all furious,” Christopher Marte, co-founder of Neighbors United Below Canal and a City Council candidate, said at a press briefing on Friday. He and other opponents claimed the decision was based on false information delivered by city lawyers in their oral arguments. “They lied,” he continued. “They said this is what the community wanted.”

Jan Lee, another co-founder of N.U.B.C, said their group planned to appeal the decision. “One of the things we have to reckon with as a community,” he said, “is coming up with money at this time to fight the City of New York to defend our community. That’s money that we need to keep Chinatown and the community going after Covid. 

A spokesman for the City Law Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The “Chinatown jail,” as it is often called, is one of four new buildings in the city’s $8.7 billion Borough Based Jail plan for closing Rikers Island. The projects also face legal opposition in Queens and the Bronx. Though widely opposed by the local community and Community Board 1, it had the key support of Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the district.

According to the city’s timeline, the more than two years of demolition of 124 and 125 White Street will begin at the end of this year. Occupancy of the new jail is anticipated in the fall of 2027.

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