Photo (cc) MapDork.
Against all odds, there’s actually working (sort of) WiFi in the city council chamber, so I’m going to attempt to liveblog today’s final vote on the city’s Coney Island rezoning plan. The council’s land use committee gave its preliminary blessing last week, so the last step needed for approval is a vote of the full council — which, barring a last-second freakout by Coney council rep Domenic Recchia, is expected to proceed as planned.
Eventually, anyway. No one is actually sure when the vote is set to take place — though by law it has to take place today, it’s not specifically listed on the council calendar — so at 1:30 a collection of interested citizens, only one of them sporting a dayglo mohawk and go-go boots, piled into the council balcony, beneath the faded ceiling panel bearing a quote from Grant: “Let Us Have Peace.”
Good luck with that.
3:11 pm: After the requisite ceremonial proclamations honoring everyday New Yorkers (26-year-old soldier from Parkchester killed by a roadside bomb; homeless-man-turned-book-author “Cadillac Man“), two separate complete roll calls (don’t ask), the Pledge of Allegiance, and an invocation, and a moment of silence for the wife of former councilmember Herb Berman and for Frank McCourt, we are finally underway.
Before getting to Coney, though, they need to address eased residency requirements for city workers, licensing of pedicabs, and requiring that garages offer parking spaces for bicycles. This could still be a while.
3:28 pm: Speaker Chris Quinn is now talking about Coney, proclaiming that while the area has “lost a little bit of her luster,” the rezoning would help by “preserving what was great about Coney Island, but also allowing it to move forward and expand and become a true recreation destination.” Any lingering doubts that the legislation is going to pass have just been dismissed — especially given Quinn’s accompanying shoutout to Domenic Recchia, “who puts his heart and soul into everything he does,” for his help in crafting it.
3:37 pm:Recchia is up now, giving his class president speech (“To my friends at the EDC: We had our ups and downs, but we kept focused on the final outcome”), and touting the new money for Coney Island Hospital, the new affordable housing, and other goodies that are part of the deal. He omits any specific mention of the future of the amusement district, though he does thank folks like Dick Zigun and Carol Albert for their “input.” He concludes: “Coney Island will live on, and it’s just the beginning. Everybody come down. Fireworks every Friday night. Thank you.”
3:42 pm: Charles Barron follows Recchia: “I hate to break up a party, but…” He declares the rezoning to be “a plan to make Coney Island more attractive for the business community” (applause from the peanut gallery in the balcony) and adds, “I’m encouraging my colleagues to do what I know they’re not going to do: Vote no.”
There is another option here, which would be to amend the rezoning bill — say, by increasing the size of the amusement district, as the Save Coney Island folks in the balcony are urging — and send it back to the City Planning Commission. That’s not likely going to happen either, though.
3:50 pm:: Crazy Tony Avella gives a brief, impassioned speech that touches on the dysfunctional land-use process (“We wind up tweaking the application as much as possible, but it’s not really a cooperative relationship”), and says at minimum the council needed to “get rid of the hotels on the south side of Shore Road [Surf Avenue, presumably], and expand the amusement area.” Accordingly, he says, “I have to vote no.”
And now we’re on to the roll call vote…
4:19 pm: The vote is in: 44 in favor, two (Avella and Barron) opposed, and one, Rosie Mendez, who said she’s unhappy with the plan but didn’t vote against it out of respect for Recchia. (Everything else on the agenda passed unanimously, if you were waiting breathlessly for the result of the bicycle-parking vote.)
So. now what happens? The rezoning is in place: Hotel towers on the south side of Surf Avenue, and apartment buildings on the north, are officially on the books. What’s not in place is a deal by the city with Joe Sitt to buy his land in the amusement district; if the stalemate holds, the state legislature is almost certainly not going to alienate the “parkland” of the Cyclones stadium parking lot — which means Taconic Investment doesn’t get to build its housing development there. And the stalemate remains in the amusement district, as well, with Sitt getting to hold onto the former Astroland site, among others, and wait for a better offer.
Sitt, meanwhile, can start work demolishing the Henderson building on Stillwell Avenue, if he likes, and begin putting up one of the newly allowed hotel towers. In fact, it appears that the city’s last-minute downscaling of the amusement district was a terrible misplay: By okaying a hotel on Sitt’s land before getting him to give up the amusement district, the city has effectively given up any leverage it had over the developer — especially since as part of Recchia’s amendments adopted last week, the city agreed not to use eminent domain to obtain any land in the amusement district.
It’s always possible, of course, that Sitt and the city will soon arrive at a sale figure, that the city will then declare that all the land from the Bowery to the Boardwalk will be dedicated to amusements, not to Chuck E. Cheeses, and that mermaids will dance in the streets 365 days a year. If you believe that, though, I have a giant rat to sell you.
4:35 pm: …or maybe not. Coney Island USA’s Dick Zigun, speaking in the lobby after the vote, reports that “There is apparently an agreement in place between the city and Thor Equities to buy at least some of Thor’s property” — though it’s unknown how much (Curbed says all of it, but Charles Bagli says just six of his ten acres), or whether there’s a provision that would maintain a certain amount of land for amusements. Now, it appears, is when we see if rats can fly.