Domenic Recchia Takes City For a Ride at Coney

In the eyes of many in the community, Mr. Sitt was far more a villain than a victim, and advocates rushed to support the city’s plan after it was announced in November.

“I think their plan was spectacular,” said Dianna Carlin, a local souvenir shop owner who has spearheaded the “Save Coney Island” movement.

But the plan for the central amusement area was at odds with Mr. Rec chia’s vision for the district, and in the land-use process, only the City Council and the City Planning Commission have binding votes; not the community board. Adding to the political complications for the city was the resistance from the state legislators, Ms. Savino and Mr. Brook-Krasny, who would be needed to change the designation of a large parking lot that is critical to the land swap.

Mr. Recchia’s clash with the city’s earlier plan sprouts from a concern that the parkland plan would be expensive and likely dragged out in protracted legal battles—to ignore that fact is being unrealistic, he said.

“I know what can really happen and what can’t, and you have to be realistic in this whole redevelopment,” he said. “You don’t work with the landowners and the landowners don’t work with you, you’re going to wind up in court.”

Further, Mr. Recchia said he is troubled by the notion of leaving behind the private landowners given the investments they’ve made in the area. Top on that list is Mr. Sitt, whom Mr. Recchia called a longtime friend.

“Joe Sitt was the only developer that put these parcels together. If Joe Sitt didn’t do the accumulation, the city would be having to do that, and that would be very difficult,” he said. “So when people say, ‘Joe Sitt this,’ ‘Joe Sitt that,’ and they just want to knock Joe Sitt, I’m just telling you no other developer wanted to do this, and I t
hink people have to recognize that.”

Mr. Sitt has contributed a total of $3,750 to Mr. Recchia’s campaigns, though the last time he gave was in 2005, according to campaign finance records. Other landowners are frequent contributors as well, and taken with money from Mr. Sitt’s lobbyists, Capalino & Company, those involved with the redevelopment at Coney Island have given at least $18,000 between Mr. Recchia’s city and federal campaign accounts since 2006, records show. Mr. Recchia has raised about $350,000 for his Congressional race, making such donations seem relatively minor.

Whatever Mr. Recchia’s reasons for opposition, the Bloomberg administration is certainly in need of his support as it tries to work out the details of the latest iteration of its plan.

Mr. Recchia said the plan is workable as a concept, and now the landowners, particularly Mr. Sitt, are negotiating with the city to determine the uses for the type of retail allowed adjacent to the amusement area. The city seems to want to limit the land to entertainment-related retail, often with themes like those seen in Times Square storefronts: ESPN Zone, tattoo parlors, and the Hard Rock Cafe are mentioned as examples.

How exactly that can translate into agreeable zoning language is unclear, as is whether Mr. Sitt will go along with it; and if he doesn’t, whether Mr. Recchia will support the plan. It also doesn’t seem to help the city that many Coney Island advocates, once solidly in the city’s court, said they have reservations about the newest plan given its smaller publicly owned amusement area.

Jesse Masyr, a lawyer for Mr. Sitt, said he was “guardedly optimistic,” noting that winds could shift in coming days given the pace of talks. “Time is an extremely precious commodity right now,” he said.

Robert Lieber, the deputy mayor, said the city could proceed without reaching a deal on the amusement area, as its plan to rezone the areas to the west and the north for dense residential are far less controversial.

“We’re still going to do the rezoning—we’re still going to do what we’re doing whether we buy Joe or leave him in there,” he said.

Getting Mr. Sitt to agree to a deal is clearly Mr. Lieber’s end goal, and in that, he credited Mr. Recchia with being effective, saying he is “optimistic that Domenic can help us make a deal.”

And what if Mr. Recchia blocks any action that the Bloomberg administration finds palatable?

Perhaps the city could hope for victory in his Congressional campaign—should Mr. Recchia win in November, his Council seat would be free by January, with plenty of time left for the rezoning to come up for a vote.

Domenic Recchia Takes City For a Ride at Coney