Council Caves on Coney; Sitt-to-City Deal Still in Works?


The way things are going, the never-ending Coney Island rezoning process is going to have more “final hearings” than Astroland had last days. Originally scheduled to meet last week to weigh in on the shape of Coney’s future, the city council’s land use committee instead repeatedly delayed its vote, even meeting on Monday and then immediately adjourning, like they were the state senate or something.

While the committee finally got together for a vote yesterday, those hoping for some sort of resolution were disappointed: The only major edits made to the city’s much-criticized compromise plan were to exclude Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park from the area to be taken over as city-owned parkland (meaning Coney’s last remaining major amusement park seems safe from eviction, at least for the next decade or so) and to bump up the number of union jobs and the amount of affordable housing to be built west of the Cyclones ballpark.

On the big questions, meanwhile, the council punted:

Despite rampant rumors that the city was about to strike an epic deal with developer Joe Sitt — buying up most of his Coney land in exchange for letting him build a single hotel tower on the site of the Henderson’s theater building on Stillwell Avenue just south of Surf Avenue — there’s been no official movement there. And when Councilmember Tony Avella proposed an amendment to the rezoning that would have expanded the amusement district and blocked high-rises south of Surf, it was soundly defeated, with Coney council rep (and Sitt pal) Domenic Recchia telling the Daily News, “It’s impossible to make everyone 100% happy.”

In the end, the committee passed the rezoning 13-2, with only Avella and fellow council outsider Charles Barron voting no. For now, the plan remains for a meager nine-acre outdoor amusement area, with much of the rest of Coney open to Chuck E. Cheese-type “entertainment retail,” and for high-rise rezoning along the south side of Surf — including a potential skyscraper on the site of Nathan’s, the city’s own renderings notwithstanding.

All of which means that we get to do this all over again next Wednesday, when the full council is set to vote on the Coney plan, at which time it can either nix the plan, approve it as-is, or send it back to the City Planning Commission with more changes. (This time, at least, the date is set in stone by ULURP rules.) It’s still conceivable that Sitt – who as of yesterday was still crowing, “It’s my sandbox!” – and the city could strike a deal in the interim, which could allow Recchia, by all accounts the council power broker on this one, to back more last-minute changes to the rezoning. Apparently fewer skyscrapers won’t be one of them, though: As Recchia blogged last night, “I know that there are those who would like to see lower buildings on the south side of Surf Avenue. We just couldn’t make this work and will be moving forward with project that you see today.”

Nobody’s holding their breath on the council riding to the rescue, in any case, which has left amusement advocates hoping that the city will buy out Sitt and then come to its senses about all this high-rise nonsense, or at the very least pursue landmark status for Nathan’s. “If we get something, it will clearly not be through zoning,” says Juan Rivero, spokesperson for the Save Coney Island coalition. “It will be through landmarking or acquisitions.”

In other words, even when this rezoning ride is over, it may not be over — so hold onto your wristband.

Photo (cc) Spuz.