Mayor Bloomberg wasted $11 million in taxpayer money this week to buy a single acre of land in Coney Island.
Bloomberg and his economic development minions hailed this purchase as the first step towards revitalizing the entire amusement area of Coney Island, but the real-estate deal is actually the first step in a process that will likely lead to a further weakening of Coney’s amusement zone. Here’s how:
Coney Island’s amusement area is currently zoned so that only amusements — rides, games of chance, Shoot the Freak booths and landmarks like the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel — can operate there. That zoning, officially called C-7, prevents such controversial uses as hotels, condos, community facilities and other non-amusement activities in an area roughly between Keyspan Park at West 22nd Street and the New York Aquarium at West 10th Street.
Yet the Bloomberg Administration wants to rezone the area as “park land” and then lease the land to amusement companies or a single theme-park operator to create a revitalized Coney Island with exciting new rides and outdoor and year-round indoor attractions.
That’s a vision that we certainly share — though we have long argued that the best way to realize that vision is to allow private developers, who are subject to market forces and public review processes, to build it.
One such developer, Joe Sitt, owns five acres of the nine acres that the city wants to rezone as “park land.” The Bloomberg Administration has made it clear that it does not want to give Sitt the chance to build a multi-billion-dollar Xanadu, even though he owns the land and his development would have to conform to the existing amusement zoning.
And therein lies the problem.
Under questioning from The Brooklyn Paper, city officials admitted this week that if the area is rezoned as “park land,” virtually anything can be built there. The city zoning resolution does not require “park land” to be set aside as green space, to be devoid of commercial activity or, indeed, to be off-limits to housing development.
Actually, all it does is put such “park land” under the sole control of the mayor’s office. No rezoning hearings or public review process will kick in if the city later wants to build a hotel or a conference center or housing or a shopping mall in the so-called “People’s Playground.”
But such hearings and public review would be required if the land remained zoned C-7 — and that is likely the reason that the city is so intent on rezoning Coney Island as “park land.”
Clearly, this week’s one-acre land purchase and the scheme to rezone the area as “park” isn’t about “saving” Coney Island — it’s about putting nine acres of prime Boardwalk-front land under mayoral control, wresting it away from a private developer whom this mayor simply does not like.
The fact that the city’s vision for an exciting Coney Island is so similar to Sitt’s makes the $11-million land purchase so much more galling. The city did not need to buy that piece of land to “protect” the amusement zone; indeed, the site is currently home to the already-successful Deno’s Wonder Wheel park and, more important, could only be an amusement park, given the current zoning.
But once the area is rezoned as “park land,” all bets are off.