Community Board 1 votes in favor of city’s plan to designate Rikers Island land public

community board 1
Angélica Acevedo/QNS

Community Board 1 voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the city’s ULURP application to make Rikers Island public land, but urged the city to start planning the future of the island now.

City officials gave a presentation on Jan. 21, showcasing how the ULURP application, which was officially filed by the City Council in December, is only meant to designate Rikers Island a “public place to ensure future development on the site will be solely for the public benefit.”

The application also ensures that the island could no longer be used for the incarceration of individuals after Dec. 31, 2026, which is when the city expects to complete four borough-based jails.

Tuesday’s meeting, which included a public hearing about the application, was quiet compared to a previous hearing CB1 hosted on Jan. 8, when city officials gave the same presentation and answered questions from community board members and residents. City officials said a “public place” designation would mean the island could be used in many different ways that would ultimately benefit the community.

However, the same concerns were raised in both hearings.

Board members wanted to know if the ULURP affected Rikers Island’s current zoning, which is currently C8. C8 zones are typically used for repair shops, warehouses and gas stations. Housing, though, is not permitted.

But board members and residents alike were mainly concerned about what the city plans to do with the island, specifically. Some board members worried that more housing developers or other as-of-right buildings would go up without a review. And at the Jan. 8 public hearing, some residents suggested the island should be used to commemorate the people who suffered there and to build community resources that would help the wrongfully convicted to seek proper restitutions.

City officials insisted that the zoning won’t change with the city’s current ULURP and have not determined any plans for the island just yet. They emphasized that designating Rikers Island a public space would mean the community board will have a say when any new developments come along, as required with all city-owned land.

CB1’s Land Use and Zoning Committee Chair Elizabeth Erion said they wanted to “look ahead” and preferred to start planning the future of the island as early as this summer.

“We generally agreed with the [mapping of the public place]. The issues we had concerns about related to what’s been brought up before, what happens afterwards and how do we get to the point where everyone has a workable land use plan to reuse Rikers Island,” Erion said. “There’s so much input, so many stakeholders involved, but the one thing that we are concerned about is that [planning] begins early, very early. And that means not two years from now, that means more like this summer we start talking about what’s the strategy going to be here, how are we going to get these groups together.”

Erion added that the committee wants a “commitment from the city” that the board will be involved in the future plans for Rikers Island and that there be ULURP applications and environmental reviews on “anything that occurs on the island.”

Although the Rikers Island jail complex belongs to the Bronx, the land falls in Astoria’s jurisdiction due to the Rikers Island Bridge that physically connects the island to Queens. The ULURP application will now be reviewed by the Queens borough president’s office, then City Planning Commission before it makes it back to City Council. It will then be up to the mayor’s office to approve the application.