Coney Rezoney: Speak Now, or Forever Hold Your Condos
Photo (cc) Brainware3000.
The battle over Coney Island's future is finally coming down to the wire: The city council is expected to vote on the city's rezoning plan by the end of the month, finally deciding which of the competing visions of Coney Future is likely to materialize.
First, though, the council has one last chance to ask for revisions to the plan, something that's expected to happen this week. (Earlier reports that the council had to act by today turned out to be mistaken, once council staffers re-checked the ULURP land-use rules.) And you know what that means: Everybody and their sister is lobbying for their own favored changes. A scorecard of some of the main players in a free-for-all that has more factions than an Italian election and the NL East race put together:
Faction: The City Public face: Economic Development Corporation president Seth "It gets confusing" Pinsky Position: Wants a "24/7" Coney that includes new apartment towers, ground-level retail, and amusements. The plan on the table is to turn the strip along the boardwalk into parkland, which would 1) allow it to be used solely for amusements, and 2) let it be "swapped" for the Cyclones stadium parking lot, which is currently mapped as parkland (like the stadium, it was once part of fabled Steeplechase Park) and the city wants to use for housing. Beyond that, the city is open to suggestions, as witness its willingness to whittle down the size of the amusement district to placate developer Joe Sitt.
Faction: Joe Sitt Public face: Joe "Joey Coney Island" Sitt Position: Wants money, either in the form of the right to build
condo timeshare hotel towers on his 10.5 acres of beachfront property, or $165 million in cash from the city in exchange for his land. The city has offered $105 million (Sitt spent about $70 million in buying up the property, pre-bubble-popping); Sitt has responded by bringing in a few cheap carny attractions for his vacant lots, and letting his Future of Coney Island website domain name expire and get squatted by a Belgian porn site.
Faction: Amusement fans Public face: Dick "Mayor of Coney Island" Zigun Position: No skyscrapers south of Surf Avenue, expand the amusement district, protect Nathan's and other historic buildings. Along with many others in the spangles-and-mermaid-tails set, Zigun was initially warm to the city's plan, but jumped ship once the city made its first round of concessions to Sitt.
Faction: Local residents Public face: A bunch of people sitting behind desks on YouTube Position: Jobs and affordable housing. Failing that, affordable housing and jobs. Did we mention jobs?
Faction: Coney elected officials Public face: Domenic "I AM LOOKED UPON IN THIS COMMUNITY!" Recchia Position: Officially? Wants "guarantees for good jobs and affordable housing," no residential towers in the amusement district, no street running through Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, and pretty much anything that anybody else has said they want. Unofficially, it's widely assumed that he's acting as bagman for Sitt, who Crain's recently described as Recchia's "childhood friend" — which would mean a guarantee that the city won't use eminent domain to seize Sitt's land if he doesn't come down on his asking price.
Faction: Cranky city councilmembers Public face: Council land-use committee chair Tony "I'm running for mayor! No, really!" Avella Position: Wants to stop the clock on ULURP and go back to the drawing board. His top priorities are resolving the uncertain state of the parkland swap plan (the state legislature is currently cool to the idea), expanding the amusement area, and shifting any high-rises to the north side of Surf Avenue — though it's hard to say which of those are shared by the other councilmembers who tore into Pinsky at a July 1 hearing.
The next round of council hearings is tentatively set for this Thursday, at which point we should learn exactly what Recchia (who as the local rep is traditionally deferred to in council land-use decisions) and the other councilfolk are going to demand. Right now the most likely scenarios look like that either the city tweaks the plan to placate Recchia — which would presumably mean at the very least a promise of no eminent domain, though given Recchia's peripatetic positions it's hard to guess for sure — or, less likely, that the council votes the whole mess down and sends things back to the drawing board.
Meanwhile, much could depend on one big dog who's yet to be heard from. As Avella tells the Voice, "[Council speaker Christine] Quinn, if she says to the councilmembers, 'Go along with it,' that's the end of it."
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