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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | A large hearing room at 250 Broadway was full to capacity with people who came to Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee on Nov. 6 to oppose the city’s plan to move part of the Department of Probation to 66 John St.
The offices, which service the Manhattan Community Progression Track of the Probation Department, are currently located at 346 Broadway, a building the city has agreed to sell to a private developer.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver opposes the move, said Paul Goldstein, Silver’s district office manager, at the start of the meeting.
“The biggest problem has been the total lack of notice to anyone in the community,” Goldstein said. “We all found out about it last week and it was by accident.”
He said that it was unfortunate “that there was no due process where people could have an opportunity to comment and bring concerns.”
Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of Community Board 1, called the real estate plan “a stealth attack.”
Presenting the city’s perspective, Ryan Dodge, director of press and public information for the Department of Probation, said that an average of 40 people a day would come to the 66 John St. offices. He characterized them as “everyday New Yorkers who are working hard to overcome their past mistakes.”
Dodge said that typically those probation clients would have been charged with offenses such as theft and larceny, sale and possession of drugs and driving while intoxicated.
“Probation is something that judges give to people that they deem safe enough to continue living in the community instead of serving time in jail,” he said. “Sometimes people confuse probation with parole, which oversees the provisional release of prisoners. Generally speaking, probation departments oversee lower risk people than parole departments.”
Matt Berk, executive director of Citywide Real Estate in the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said that a lease had already been signed for 35,000 square feet in the John St. building. The offices would be open from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dodge said.
C.B. 1 committee members and residents objected. They pointed out that the neighborhood around the building is the fastest growing residential neighborhood in the city.
There are around 24,000 residents and students living within 1,100 feet of 66 John St., according to statistics compiled by Community Board 1.
“The 66 John St. building is surrounded by residential buildings and directly across from one of the neighborhood’s pre-schools,” said Patrick Kennell, a John Street resident, property owner and father of two young children. He said that more than 800 children go to six pre-schools within a three-block radius of 66 John St. and that within seven blocks, there are nine day care centers and schools with almost 1,500 infants and children.
He said that two weeks ago he had started circulating a petition opposing the move, and that it had already garnered more than 1,500 signatures.
Marijo Russell-O’Grady, dean of students at Pace University, said that she was very concerned about the city’s plan.
“I have 500 freshmen across the street,” she said. “I have 600 upper classmen two blocks west. I have another 225 students on Fulton St. I am concerned about this decision and the transparency that the city has shown with it.”
Ro Sheffe, chairman of the Financial District Committee, asked the city representatives if it would be possible just to put administrative offices in the 66 John St. building and to have the people on probation report elsewhere.
Laurence Busching, first deputy criminal justice coordinator in the Mayor’s Office, was non-committal. He said that he and the others would take what they had heard back to their superiors.
The Community Board voted to draw up a resolution opposing the move. It is also looking into whether the lease arrangements are legally valid because of the way the transaction was handled.
Hughes said that she had sent a letter to Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway and to Edna Wells Handy, Commissioner of the New York Department of Citywide Administrative Services, in which she referenced the City Charter, sections 824 and 195.
In the letter, Hughes wrote that the acquisition of a large amount of space at 66 John St. should have triggered a Section 195 hearing rather than simply a Section 824 hearing that would not have required notice to the Community Board and City Planning Commission.
In response, Berk said that there had been public notification. Two public hearings were held, he said, one in April and one in June. Both were announced in a publication called the “City Record.”
“The notice of the proposed move occurred on page 1,287 of the City Record,” Sheffe observed drily. Hughes noted that few people read the City Record unless they are involved in government.
C.B. 1 member Susan Cole said that the people at Wednesday’s meeting were afraid of what might happen to them on the street if the Probation Department relocates its offices as planned. “There is anxiety,” she said, “and there is nothing that you’re telling us that alleviates that anxiety.”
“I hope you’ll have a positive outcome on this,” said C.B. 1 member Joel Kopel to the three city representatives right before they left the meeting. “But if you don’t, knowing this community, I guarantee you will have people outside picketing. We will not let this open.”