HomeChinese AmericanPlans for controversial jail in New York Chinatown foiled

Plans for controversial jail in New York Chinatown foiled

Sketch of proposed jail from NYC Mayor’s Office

By Lillian Bit, AsAmNews Staff Writer

A ruling by the Supreme Court of the State of New York Monday halted plans for building a jail in New York’s Chinatown.

A group called Neighbors United Below Canal filed a lawsuit in February arguing the city failed to get adequate community input and that the building would have caused “irreparable harm” to indigenous lands.


Jan Lee of NUBC enthusiastically informed the Chinatown Community via Facebook.

“We won the lawsuit against the jail. Today Judge John J.Kelley has ‘annulled’ all resolutions and approvals by All City Agencies for the Chinatown Jail at 124-5 White St. The judge cited health, traffic and design build schemes as partial reasons he ruled in favor of our community. To everyone who donated money and time and their loud voice and their presence, this is YOUR victory. This is a community victory and Astonishing- you are part of Chinatown History everyone. The City May appeal, but we have this moment to ourselves, “ Lee wrote.

Chinatown was one of gthe four borough jails planned by the city which would allow the city to then close Rikers Island.

According to the Daily News, $8.7 billion total would be allocated to build the four jails-one jail for each borough except Staten Island.

A Lippman Commission study in 2016 said smaller jails near courthouses would make visitation and access to courts easier. In addition, reported abuses at Rikers which is an isolated island would be less an issue since detainees would be in smaller jails.


The Chinatown community opposed the jail because they felt property values would drop and crime would rise and that the $8.7 billion allocated to the 4 jails would be better used to support education, senior facilities and to end poverty.

In addition, the jail proposed on 125 White St would be located right next to a senior center, residences and small retailers. According to the Daily News, senior citizens at Chung Pak Center were concerned about the toxic dust and air pollution and the noise level that would harm them during the many years of demolishing and building a jail.


The City Council, including Councilwoman Margaret Chin who represents Chinatown, voted to approve the construction in October 2019. The new jail would be a 29 story building down from the original proposed 40 story tower.

The concessions that Chinatown received for that approval according to The Lo-Down news were:

•A new performing arts space within MOCA( Museum of Chinese in America)

•Support for Chung Park senior development by setting the jail back 40 feet, building a glass enclosure for the senior building terrace, upgrading A/C, extending affordability to the senior centers 88 Apts and 1.3 million rent credits during construction period

•Relocation help for small businesses impacted by jail.

•$10 million in improvements in Columbus Park including renovation of the pavilion and bathrooms.

The opposition to the jail and the concessions were swift and strong resulting in community protests in the streets of Chinatown from community activist led by Christopher Marte, and the Advocacy groups like Jan Lee of NUBC.

Local and community groups and residents were upset by Council MemberMargaret Chin’s vote and protested that she was not responding to her community districts’ needs. Also local activist criticized the funding for MOCA to receive “benefits”to pass the jail deal.


Frustrated and angry about the jail plan, Lee initiated a fund for donations for a lawsuit against the City of New York to stop the plan for the jail.

They argued that a required City land use review were not followed and that certain environmental reviews were not completed before approvals were given. The lawsuit also said the land use review was also not site specific or borough specific lumping together the four boroughs as one.

In addition the site change from the first proposed site on 80 Centre St to a quick location change to 124-5 White St did not allow the new site to go through a required land use review.

In addition demolition and replacement decisions were not given a “hard look”at circumstances that would unduly burden Chinatown and civic center neighborhoods. Because of these reasons and many others


If you like to read the judges’ decision process here.

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