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Residents: Kew Gardens jail plan increases traffic

City officials announced last week that the Kew Gardens jail on Queens Boulevard will reopen in a move that has concerned residents who said it could add traffic to already-congested streets.

Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro said inmates will once again be housed in the 456-bed facility right behind the courthouse in Kew Gardens, which the city had shuttered in 2002. City officials did not say the exact date they plan to reopen the jail, which is now used for temporary holding cells for individuals waiting to appear at the Queens County Supreme Courthouse.

Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey and Kew Gardens Civic Association President Murray Berger said they did not oppose the reopening of the jail but emphasized they need more information from city officials, who they said have not provided any update about the jail to them, so residents can prepare for an influx of cars going to and from the facility.

“We never had a problem with the jail before,” Berger said. “On rare occasions somebody would escape and then we’d have helicopters all over the area, lighting up the streets, but that was very rare. The only tangible impact we would feel is more cars coming through the area.”

Additional cars could be problematic in an area that already has too few parking spots, Berger said.

Carey said city officials have not returned her requests for information about the jail, such as when the Kew Gardens facility would officially open.

She agreed with Berger that the traffic, not the reopening itself, is a worry for the community.

“As long as they put petty thieves and not murderers or rapists in the jail, we’re not too concerned,” Carey said of the reopening. “It’s more a logistical problem with parking because of the extra employees who will be coming to the area.”

City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said she will work to make sure the area remains safe.

“I will be working closely with community leaders, residents and elected officials in the area to ensure that the No. 1 concern — safety — is at all times met,” Koslowitz said. “Our community has always been vigilant and I have expressed this sentiment to Commissioner Schriro. The commissioner has assured me of her commitment to the safety of the community.”

Schriro said the move to reopen the Kew Gardens facility, as well as a jail in downtown Brooklyn, is part of the city’s plans to reconfigure its jail system. The reconfiguration, which includes the demolition of rundown buildings at Rikers Island, will decrease the number of beds citywide from 19,400 to about 16,500.

The new plan also calls for an 870-bed jail barge to be relocated from the Bronx to Rikers Island.

“It is the highest and best use of existing facilities,” Schriro said.

The Kew Gardens and Brooklyn jails were closed because the inmate population had fallen, city officials said. But city officials said reopening the Queens and Brooklyn facilities will help the Department of Correction to transfer inmates who are awaiting trials from deteriorating buildings at Rikers Island to the other jails.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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