Patrick Kennell, who lives at 80 John Street, has organized a coalition of residents, schools and businesses opposed to the plan, and has hired lawyer Steven Sladkus of Wolf-Haldenstein to represent their interests.
“We are taking steps in that direction,” said Kennell of a possible lawsuit. “We don’t have anything on file yet but that’s where we’re headed.”
The city plans to move the probation department’s Adult Operations Office to 66 John Street, which would include having probationers check in at ATM-like machines at a rate of 200 per week. Financial District residents are fearful that such a move would introduce a criminal element into a highly residential area that’s recently been dubbed “Stroller Ally.”
“This is a criminal justice function that belongs in the Civic Center, it doesn’t belong in any residential neighborhood, let alone the Financial District.” said Kennell, a lawyer with two sons, aged 3 and 6.
By way of precedent, residents of Tribeca were successful in their recent bid to halt the city’s plan to move a criminal summons court to 71 Thomas Street. In that case, restaurateur Lynn Wagenknecht and others launched a suit against the city claiming it had not completed a sufficient environmental review before it approved the move. The city abandoned its plan in return for Wagenknecht dropping the suit.
Kennell said he and others hope to emulate the Tribeca residents’ success. “We think our neighbors in Tribeca did a fantastic job and we’re hopeful we can get the same result,” said Kennell. “I think we have some similar arguments.”
Both moves are part of the city’s 21st Century Civic Center Plan, which seeks to move city agencies out of aging and inefficient buildings into more modern digs throughout Lower Manhattan. The Civic Center encompasses the area around City Hall and includes buildings that are home to the city’s various criminal justice courts and other law enforcement entities.
The city has drawn heated criticism from Community Board 1 and residents over the lack of details it’s offered on the moves. Residents only learned of the probation department plan after a city official let it slip at an unrelated CB1 meeting in October. Later, the city claimed it informed residents by way of the City Record, a public notice bulletin published by the Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services. At an over-capacity November meeting called to address the probation department move, nobody raised their hand when asked if they had heard of the City Record.
Kennell’s lawyer, Steven Sladkus, said the suit could be filed before year’s end.
“The lawsuit, generally speaking, is challenging the city’s decision to move the probation office to [John Street],” said Sladkus. “It’s also raising issues that the city did not follow all required procedures in assessing the issue before making that decision.”
Two other moves are scheduled around city agencies at 1 Centre Street and 100 Gold Street. City officials have not responded to repeated requests from Our Town Downtown for details on those plans.
As for the coalition suing the city to stop the probation department move, Kennell said it’s made up of many interested parties in the Financial District, but that only a few will be named in the lawsuit itself. Kennell said he started an online petition opposing the move soon after it was discovered that has since garnered 1,260 signatures.
When asked about the possibility of facing a lawsuit to stop the move, which is planned for early 2014, a spokesperson for the probation department said, “We remain committed to ensuring that the move does not cause any disruption in our new neighborhood.”
Other city officials did not respond to requests for comment.
“People are rip-roaring mad about this and the city has been so cavalier about this issue it’s mind-boggling,” said Sladkus. “That’s going to be demonstrated in our papers.”