Parking Lot in the Way of Bloomberg’s Plan for Coney

Add another obstacle to the Bloomberg administration’s plans to remake Coney Island: a parking lot.

Despite many an overture to election officials in southern Brooklyn, the administration has been unable to get anyone in Albany to carry a bill “alienating,” or declassifying, as parkland a large parking lot for the KeySpan Park baseball stadium, a measure that is central to the city’s plans. And the clock is ticking: The legislative session wraps June 22.

Albany legislators are resistant to act on the Bloomberg administration’s plan before the city reaches a deal with Joe Sitt, the major landowner in the amusement area, who has been sparring with city officials for more than two years now.

The central fight is over private developer Mr. Sitt’s land, which the city has unsuccessfully tried to buy, an issue that has drowned out the numerous other criticisms and unresolved problems with the city’s plan. This act stands to come to a close, in some form, by August, when the City Council must vote to approve or reject the mayor’s plans to remake the amusement hub with new rides, housing and hotels.

The alienation from parkland to housing needed from Albany is key to the city’s proposal. Without it, the number of new apartments that could be built in the area would be drastically reduced; developer Taconic Investment Partners says it will also be unable to build on much of its adjacent land due to parkland regulations. (The city has estimated that over 1,900 housing units would go unbuilt if the parkland were not alienated.)

The city wants to alienate the KeySpan parking lot as parkland and, in turn, then designate much of Mr. Sitt’s land as parkland, perhaps rendering it difficult or impossible to sell.

“Legislators have a problem with doing something that could appear to be taking somebody else’s property,” State Senator Diane Savino, who represents the district, said. “We would prefer that they come to a resolution with Thor Equities so we can move forward with this process.”

Should Albany indeed wrap this month without acting on the legislation, it would make the administration’s push to win approval from the City Council that much harder, leaving another loose end at Coney.

With this in mind, city officials have been pushing to get something done legislatively this month, and last week presented a revised plan to local elected officials that would effectively make the alienation of the parkland conditional on reaching a deal with Mr. Sitt. The plan would perhaps allow Taconic to start building regardless of what happens with the parking lot.

Ms. Savino said she is considering that plan, but encouraged a deal with Mr. Sitt.

Seth Pinsky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, expressed confidence that the Coney plan would go forward whether the parkland is alienated before the City Council vote, though he acknowledged that it is harder for the city if Albany doesn’t act now.

“If we don’t ever get the alienation, that’s a big problem, but whether the alienation comes first or second is of less consequence,” he said. “In an ideal world, we would have it done before” the Council vote.

But even if the city does ultimately strike a deal with Mr. Sitt—which would seem to go a long way toward assuaging Ms. Savino’s concerns—there is still the issue of Carl Kruger. Chairman of the State Senate’s Finance Committee, Mr. Kruger has been vocally opposed to the whole concept behind the city’s proposal for the area, characterizing its plans as pie in the sky.

“The proposal is DOA,” Mr. Kruger said Tuesday. “They have no developer, they have no operator, they have no funding source, they’re short on affordable housing and they’re high on market housing.”

The amusement area at Coney is not his district—he represents neighboring districts, including Brighton Beach—but he is an unpredictable figure in an unpredictable chamber, and earlier this year he held up two major votes in the nascent Democratic majority. 

Mr. Kruger also seemed less than impressed by the mayor’s efforts to buy out Mr. Sitt—officials have offered him $105 million, and are seeking land from other landowners—saying that the city should not be spending so much to “warehouse dirt.”

With an eye toward resolution, Ms. Savino said she spoke with Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith about the issue and is trying to set up a summit of sorts with him, the city, local elected officials and Mr. Sitt before the session’s end.

Parking Lot in the Way of Bloomberg’s Plan for Coney