City urged to ‘immediately abandon’ plans for Corrections facility at Bayside’s Fort Totten

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Ryan Joseph Daley of Bayside NY

Bayside should not be the site of a proposed Department of Corrections (DOC) training facility, according to two lawmakers.

Assemblyman Edward Braunstein and Councilman Paul Vallone are the latest local leaders to speak out against the DOC plan to bring its training academy to Fort Totten in the Bay Terrace section of the neighborhood. The agency is currently working with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) on a feasibility study for the site.

Community Board 7 first raised concerns with the proposal at a general meeting in October 2017, where FDNY officials stopped by to share plans to construct a wind turbine in the southeast portion of the fort. While board members were initially open to the proposal, the mood changed when board member Chuck Apelian announced he received word the DOC is actively considering Fort Totten for its training academy.

Remarks made by former DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte in May 2017 confirmed the agency’s interest in the site. The city has allocated $100 million for the new training academy.

Braunstein called the city’s desire to further develop Fort Totten “outrageous.”

“Recently, Community Board 7 notified my office that DOC was considering a facility at Fort Totten,” he said. “Upon receiving this information, my requests to various city agencies have failed to result in any substantive information. This is despite the fact that the city of New York has been considering this proposal as far back as 2015.”

The lawmaker also recently received an anonymous mailer that included a copy of the city Fire Department’s “Agency Training Operations and Planned Re-Development At Fort Totten, Queens” report, dated Sept. 26. Should the DOC plan move forward at the Fort, two buildings near the the soccer fields/old parade grounds would have to undergo renovation and demolition work to accommodate the new facility, according to the document. Bus parking for students and a 180-space, below-grade parking facility for DOC instructors and administrators would also be built.

The city has “moved aggressively” over the last two years to explore whether the expansion is feasible, the report said.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that a proposal of this magnitude was not shared with elected officials and the community board for over two years,” Braunstein said. “Given the lack of transparency and absence of public input, I call on Mayor de Blasio to immediately abandon any plans for a DOC facility at the Fort Totten campus.”

Vallone said the city’s move was “gravely concerning.”

“Fort Totten’s location is nestled in a small residential community that lacks the infrastructure, public transportation and accessibility for a development of this magnitude,” he said.

Fort Totten was formally an active U.S. Army installation and is currently used by the U.S. Army Reserve, NYPD and FDNY. Certain portions are designated public park areas.

Earlier this month, state Senator Tony Avella also raised concerns about the city’s plans for the site. In a letter addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the lawmaker called for increased transparency. He also questioned whether DOC’s interest in Fort Totten pertained to the city’s move to create neighborhood-based jail sites.

A DOC spokesperson told QNS the Fort Totten feasibility study is still in the works and “does not include plans for a new jail.”