Opponents Fail to Block Probation Office Move to Financial District

Many city offices occupy 66 John Street, where probation offices will occupy 42,000 square feet on the fourth floor. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jan. 08, 2014

A judge ruled on Wednesday that the city can continue with its plan to move a probation office into 66 John Street. The decision, by state Supreme Court Judge Carol E. Huff,  was a blow to opponents of the relocation, who had been seeking a temporary restraining order against the city’s action that was just nine days away.

The opponents, fearing more crime and other problems in the neighborhood, had claimed that the city bypassed required environmental and land use review processes in its decision to move the offices to the John Street building, which already houses the offices of many city agencies.

Along with Pace University and Century 21 Department Store, petitioners in the case include the condominium board of 59 John St., across the street, and Patrick Kennell, a resident of 80 John St.

“We’re disappointed, obviously, and we’re reviewing our options at this point,” Kennell said in a phone interview, indicating that his group plans to appeal the court’s decision. “We’re hopeful that the city will do the same, and that they will come to their senses with the new administration and reverse this really ill-conceived move.”

In an effort to show during Tuesday’s court hearing how the community was taken by surprise by the planned move, the opponents’ attorneys played an audio recording from CB1’s full-board meeting on Oct. 22, in which then Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway mentioned the move only in answer to a question. In the recording, Holloway also said that, unlike the city’s summons court, which was previously slated to move into 71 Thomas, the probation office is “where people with actual criminal records go every day.”

“The community board has to be notified,” Orel argued, “and the community board has the right to hold a hearing. These are basic democratic functions of this government.”

The city’s attorney, Haley Stein, countered that the government is exempt from lengthy land use and environmental reviews because the lease on the fourth-floor space amends the existing lease rather than creates a new one. That space, she said, has housed the city’s Administration for Children’s Services since 2000.

“The relocation, reorganization, and expansion or construction of city offices is quintessential, routine action undertaken by city,” Stein said.

Haley also contended that halting the move at this point would be "extremely burdensome on the city. All the clients have already been notified individually, she said, "and any injunction would potentially disrupt services that were provided to the clients."

Visitors the the probation office, Haley noted, are people who "a judge has determined can continue functioning in a community."

The probation office move is one of two controversial planned relocations of city offices from 346 Broadway as a result of the sale of that building to a developer. Last month, opponents who had sued the city to prevent its planned relocation of a summons court to 71 Thomas St. were successful in blocking the move.  According to their lawyer, the city dropped its plan in order to avoid a delay in the sale of the building. Unlike that suit, the action brought against the probation office move to John Street does not challenge the legality of the sale.



A possible compromise to the Probation Dept. move

As you have reported, the Financial District Committee and Community Board 1 strenuously oppose the City's proposal to move the Department of Probation to 66 John Street. We've agreed unanimously that it would be outrageously inappropriate to have convicted felons reporting daily to a facility in the heart of a densely populated residential neighborhood, where thousands of children attend school.

A legal action by concerned local residents to prevent this move has been rejected in court, and the DOP plans to move in soon. However, I'd like to propose a compromise that might resolve this problem amicably for all concerned.

I cannot speak for CB 1, but I personally would not object to the DOP moving only administrative offices to John Street -- IF a more appropriate venue could be found for probationers to report every day.

I would welcome the DOP staff and employees to John Street, as I would welcome any employer who brings more jobs to the community. I suspect many local residents might agree -- but only on condition that convicted criminals do not visit a facility adjacent to a college dorm, a pre-school, and hundreds of residential homes every day.


Ro Sheffe
Chair, Financial District Committee
Manhattan Community Board 1