In Coney Island Fight, Recchia Backs Developer Joe Sitt Over Bloomberg

The city has been battling to buy Mr. Sitt’s land for about $100 million, though he has resisted, saying he would lose about $30 million in investment at the site. As no deal has emerged—though the two sides have discussed a compromise proposal with a smaller acquisition—Mr. Sitt and his attorney, Jesse Masyr, have pushed these and other points in an attempt to salvage some value in his property, which he paid over $100 million to assemble.

 

WHILE IT’S OFTEN A FOOL’S errand predicting just where these development fights end up—council members and city officials tend to stake out extreme positions backed by dramatic rhetoric before meeting somewhere in the middle before a vote—it seemed Mr. Recchia and others on the Council were staking out a path toward a compromise being pushed by Messrs. Masyr and Sitt. That plan involves a few changes to the zoning, including the elimination of Wonder Wheel Way and not designating Mr. Sitt’s land as parkland, though still completing the broader rezoning of the area.

Of course, there are numerous other issues to settle, including affordable housing and a push by unions to wrest numerous concessions from the Bloomberg administration and another private developer to give wage and hiring guarantees.

In all, the issue has turned into a giant headache, and, more broadly, there are a huge number of open questions that the administration is unable to answer now, causing multiple council members to raise larger concerns about the plan’s viability. For one, city officials have said the plan will have to be phased in over at least 10 to 15 years, putting its fate into the hands of future administrations—a concept the Bloomberg administration tries to avoid.

Officials have acknowledged the redevelopment will require hundreds of millions of dollars in investment for acquisitions and infrastructure, such as new water systems, for which they have only a fraction of the necessary money budgeted. The term “pie in the sky” is thrown around frequently by observers and critics, particularly as multiple prior administrations have tried to redevelop and revitalize the area with very limited success.

A peeved Councilwoman Helen Sears offered some criticism in her questions to city officials:

“I think it’s flawed,” she said of the plan. “I think you didn’t answer my question, and I also think that the timeframe of Willets Point and Coney Island is overwhelming. From my perspective, I’m not sure of where all this money is coming from.”

Still, city economic development officials are committed to Coney Island, and they argue that this project has the potential to transform a neighborhood entirely, perhaps bringing billions in investment to an area that is mostly marked by vacant lots. 

ebrown@observer.com