Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial plan to remake Coney Island won — and lost — in a community board committee vote on Monday night that revealed vast local concerns about the mayor’s vision and some support for the amusement area’s main landowner Joe Sitt, an outspoken critic of the mayor’s ambitions.
Community Board 13 Chairwoman Marion Cleaver, led the housing, zoning and community development committee to its conflicted “yes” vote on the mayor’s rezoning plan by introducing about 20 revisions to the city plan that included a ban on eminent domain and support for larger retail stores in the amusement zone.
In the end, 19 committee members voted for the amended city plan, while two abstained and three recused themselves.
The community board’s role, though advisory only, is the first step in a rigorous public review process of a Bloomberg scheme that would rezone a vast swath of downtrodden Coney Island to create a new city-owned amusement park on parkland complemented by privately owned hotels, restaurants and year-round attractions, like a water park.
That would, in theory, create a massive amusement area in an area bounded by Keyspan Park, the landmark Cyclone roller coaster, the Boardwalk and Surf Avenue. The city also wants to change other zoning to encourage the construction of 4,500 units of mixed-income housing west and north of the amusement zone.
Debate in the community board’s cramped, third-floor offices on Surf Avenue was intense, even if the final vote was one-sided.
Members of CB13 grappled with the mayor’s plan, Sitt’s previous presentations and arguments from Coney enthusiasts, planning groups and labor unions — potentially competing interests.
“This is a moment in Coney Island history that we can’t let go of,” said CB13 District Manager Chuck Reichenthal, who helped craft the amendments with Cleaver.
For the mayor to accomplish its plan, the city must acquire — by purchasing or condemning — 10-1/2 acres from Sitt, who has promised his own gleaming, tourist destination of rides, hotels and shopping. Sources say the two sides are far from reaching a deal, as they have been for much of the past year and more.
Sitt’s attorney, Jesse Masyr, said the city’s plan would actually stifle new construction projects.
“We were hoping there would be a zoning that would stimulate development,” he said.
The stipulations are the key to this community board vote. They include:
• Eliminating the threat of eminent domain.
• Quadrupling the size of retail stores from 2,500 to 10,000 square feet in the amusement core.
• Scrapping plans for a new street along the theme park called Wonder Wheel Way. Sitt’s lawyer lambasted the calls for new streets in testimony last week.
• Freeing business owners from having to provide off-street parking.
• Abandoning calls to officially zone the amusement nook as “parkland.”
Such conditions are likely to be cheered by Sitt and his company Thor Equities, but they also dealt a blow to advocates who want the city build a theme park bigger than the currently proposed nine acres.
A motion to enlarge the amusement park and only allow rides between West Fifth and West 24th streets did not pass, partially due to the lobbying of Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island).
“In order for any development to happen, there has to be housing [there],” Recchia said.
The project will be voted on by CB13’s full board, Borough President Markowitz, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
The full board will vote on the proposal on Wednesday, March 11 at 8 pm at Coney Island Hospital [2601 Ocean Pkwy. between Shore Parkway and Avenue Z, (718) 266-3011].