The City Council approved the Bloomberg administration-backed rezoning of Coney Island on Wednesday afternoon in a 44-2-1 vote. While the city is still negotiating with the rezoned area’s main private landlord—Thor Equities’ Joe Sitt—the two long-opposed parties may be close to reaching a final deal.
The rezoning plan would turn vacant lots currently zoned for amusements into a residential area, and would allow some hotels, retail, and indoor amusements into the central amusement area of the historic entertainment hub. The plan, which has been in the works for nearly eight years, must now pass through the chaotic gates of Albany before it’s signed into law.
It remains unclear exactly how much land the city will claim. But Domenic Recchia, Coney Island’s representative on the City Council, said that the amusement parkland will have between 9.5 and 10 acres. He added that developers will most likely build two high-rise hotels, though the legislation allows for up to four. Mayor Bloomberg said after the vote that the city is hoping to develop an amusement district that totals 27 acres. It would stretch between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk.
The plan’s three main proponents on the City Council—Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Land Use Committee Chair Melinda Katz, and Mr. Recchia—emphasized throughout the afternoon that the legislation would revive the world’s former playground into a year-round destination.
“Clearly, Coney Island’s luster isn’t what it used to be,” Ms. Quinn said. “What we did today, and what this whole process has been about, is to keep what was best about Coney Island but also to move it forward.”
After touting a new shark exhibit for the aquarium, 35 percent affordable housing, a new gym for the school district, renovation of the Boardwalk, and a $137 million investment in renovating the sewage system, Mr. Recchia said, before voting yes, “Any single one of these things would be a huge benefit to Coney Island. The fact that the commitment has been made to provide all of these is truly remarkable.”
Ms. Katz said at the vote that the plan would create 6,000 permanent jobs and 25,000 construction jobs, in addition to 4,500 new housing units, over 5,000 square feet of new retail, and 900 hotel rooms. Overall, she said, the plan would add a projected $14 billion in economic activity to the area over the next 30 years.
Who that economic activity would benefit, however, has been a point of heated debate.
Protesters relegated to the mezzanine clapped and cheered when City Council members like Charles Barron of Brooklyn lambasted the Bloomberg administration for putting corporate interests first.
“This is a plan to make Coney Island more feasible for the business community, more attractive to the business community,” Mr. Barron said, “and not for the local grassroots, indigenous people there that are struggling each and every day.”
Mr. Barron and Tony Avella, a Democratic candidate for mayor, were the only two City Council members who voted against the plan, while Rosie Mendez abstained. Opponents did not protest on City Hall’s steps (restaurant workers lobbying for paid sick days did instead) because they were expecting Mr. Recchia to work out a deal with the Bloomberg administration for 50 percent affordable housing, according to Carmen Gonzalez, the head of Coney Island’s ACORN chapter.
As those hopes were not realized, local activists maintained that corporate interests would benefit the most from the rezoning. “The hotels are getting more than the people in the community,” Ms. Gonzalez said.
Juan Rivero, Save Coney Island’s spokesperson, argued that since the amusement area would shrink and be dwarfed by new development, the plan would destroy Coney Island’s distinct character.
“If the administration lacks the perspective, humility, or wisdom to fix its plan in its implementation,” he said, “then this rezoning will be viewed in the same light as the demolition of the old Penn Station: a disgraceful moment in the history of New York City.”
Meanwhile, the power struggle between council and the administration remained an undercurrent. “The problem is it was the city’s plan,” Mr. Avella said before voting no. “We wind up tweaking the [rezoning] application as much as possible, but it’s never really a cooperative relationship.”
But it’s a conflict that Mr. Recchia and Mr. Bloomberg seem to have moved past—for the most part.
“Now the star of the day,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the end of his remarks at a post-vote press conference, “the one, the only, the indomitable—I was looking for a word other than insufferable, and I came up with indomitable—Domenic Recchia!”