People’s Playground leaders say a new facility for the hearing-impaired on Surf Avenue is violating the amusement district’s building codes — but the center’s founders say they just want a fair hearing.
Coney advocates claim that the new Deaf and Wellness Recreation Center under construction at the corner of W. 12th Street runs afoul of zoning regulations, which allows only for entertainment-related businesses.
The space has been under construction since summer 2013, and the center’s website promises yoga and tai-chi classes for deaf and mute clients, along with excursions to Atlantic City and Brooklyn Cyclones’ games. The site even advertises trips to Astroland, the famed Sodom by the Sea funzone shuttered in 2008. But opponents of the center allege that none of that falls within the city statutes, which were designed to bring in retail catering to beachgoers and amusement park visitors.
“That’s not a legitimate use. It’s got to be predominantly arts and amusement based, and this is not,” said Marty Levine, who helped steer the zoning process as the former chairman of Community Board 13 and a member of the Coney Island Development Corporation, a semi-private agency the city founded to promote new investment in the world-famous destination.
Other opponents argued that such a facility would set back a growing commercial corridor that has welcomed new, large-scale investors like Applebee’s and Johnny Rockets in recent years — and send a message to landlords that they can flout the law.
“It’s an eating and drinking strip that’s been coming along nicely, and millions of dollars have been invested here to bring it up,” said self-proclaimed Coney mayor and Sideshows by the Seashore founder Dick Zigun. “It doesn’t belong here. And it’s a sign to the building owners that they don’t have to obey the zoning.”
The Buildings Department slapped the site with a stop work order late last year due to an expired permit, but Zigun alleged that construction on the center has continued. And Levine pointed out that the location does not have the stop work order on display, as the law requires.
But those behind the new facility say they have heard the concerns loud and clear — and that their new operation will be in compliance with zoning. The owners said that they will offer pottery and dance classes to clients, which they argue counts as amusement.
“We are an entertainment center for the deaf and elderly in the neighborhood. We are providing food, amusement, and entertainment to the deaf and elderly,” said co-owner Vadim Agafonov.
Agafonov said he and his partners had obeyed the stop work order, and were in talks with the Buildings Department.
The city said it is still looking into whether the center falls within the law, and is holding off on permitting further work at the address until they reach a decision.
“When this happens we usually have some objections, usually zoning-related, about the project,” said Buildings spokeswoman Kelly Magee.