The main opponents of a city plan to rezone Coney Island’s faded amusement area in hopes of encouraging the development of housing, retail and a new 12-acre ocean-front amusement park have sued the city on the grounds that the new theme park isn’t big enough to attract the hordes of tourists needed to sustain the long-sought revitalization.
The group, Save Coney Island, filed the lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court last week, claiming that rezoning the area to permit high-rise hotels would encourage profit-seeking developers to tear down historic buildings such as the Nathan’s hot dog stand on Stillwell Avenue.
“The goal of this lawsuit is not to stop the redevelopment of Coney Island as a world renowned amusement district,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Albert Butzel, “but to make it possible for that to happen. Responding to the interests of private developers and ignoring expert studies, the city has so reduced the area available for outdoor amusements that it will not be capable of regenerating a world-class Coney Island. [The city’s] knuckling under to private development interests violated the law.”
Last month, city officials heralded their purchase of seven acres of land from the neighborhood’s principal landowner, Joe Sitt, for $96 million. That land, combined with other properties, will form the bulk of the 12-acre open-air amusement park, while Sitt prepares to develop his remaining land, mostly along Surf Avenue, into hotels, restaurants, retail stores and indoor attractions.
That land buy came on the heels of the City Council’s July approval of the Bloomberg rezoning blueprint, which seeks the new amusements, plus 4,500 units of new housing to the north and west of that area.
The lawsuit by Save Coney Island seeks the nullification of that rezoning, sending the city back to the drawing board.
In court papers, the plaintiffs assert that the city’s Environmental Impact Statement failed to adequately address expert testimony that claimed that the proposed amusement area is too small to create a viable amusement park. As such, the EIS failed to adequately consider the impact that so much new, non-amusement development could have on Coney Island’s historic resources.
The suit also contends that the city altered an earlier version of its rezoning plan to benefit Sitt rather than the public.
“The Bloomberg administration has tried to portray this rezoning as an effort to revitalize Coney Island,” said Save Coney Island spokesman Juan Rivero. “In fact, this rezoning threatens to irrevocably squander the tremendous potential of this world-renowned ‘People’s Playground.’”
Not everyone is so sure. City officials have said that the rezoning will stand up to court scrutiny.
“The review process … was proper, and the plan was developed with extensive input from the local community,” the Law Department said in a statement.
And Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun, who has at times been critical of the city’s rezoning effort, told the Daily News today added the suit could be counterproductive.
“Any business that exists in Coney Island desperately wants to see redevelopment happen immediately,” he said. “I would like to see ground broken … yesterday. “I’m not looking to complicate things so that nothing happens.”
In seeking to toss the environmental impact statement, the plaintiffs are following a similar approach as opponents of the Atlantic Yards project. But courts have consistently slammed the door on such suits.
In the meantime, dozens of amusement operators have already expressed interest in running an interim theme park on three large Boardwalk-fronting plots of land over the next few summers.
The Daily News reported on Sunday that 50 operators attended a city information session last month in Las Vegas — a big change from Coney’s recent history, which has seen little interest from national operators.
The deadline for bids is Dec. 18.
©2009 Community News Group
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