Be ‘Very, Very Scared’ of Coney Island Without Rezoning, City Warns

Back in the late spring, the city added a few new slides to its Coney Island redevelopment plan PowerPoint, presumably

Back in the late spring, the city added a few new slides to its Coney Island redevelopment plan PowerPoint, presumably to assuage critics, that showed successively how the core amusement area has shrunk decade after decade to become just a pitiful shadow of what it once was. With the city’s planned rezoning, the pitch went, Coney could come closer to its heyday and be large and lively by historic standards.

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Now with Astroland apparently headed to amusement park heaven, the city added a new slide.

"Coney Island: 2009?" the slide read, showing an overhead view with active amusements highlighted in orange, and a big swath missing where Astroland is today.

With this month’s news that Astroland owner Carol Hill Albert has proclaimed the signature Coney Island amusement park closed forever after she couldn’t secure a lease with landlord Joe Sitt, the Bloomberg administration seems to be that much more intent–or desperate, perhaps–on pushing forward with its rezoning for the area. The planning action, for which the city wants to secure Council approval in about a year, would take a large area zoned for amusements and make space for over 4,000 units of new housing, a retail center, hotels, and a central amusement district characterized by "entertainment retail," indoor and outdoor rides.

And what happens if there is no rezoning under the Bloomberg administration?

"We all should be scared–we all should be very, very scared," said Lynn Kelly, president of the city-run Coney Island Development Corporation.

"If we don’t get that rezoning done now, what will happen is there will be more vacant property," she said. "We won’t have anything to talk about but whether we want to go shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond."

As Ms. Kelly and other officials have emphasized before, city officials seem terrified that a future administration might change their plans or not have the fortitude to hold firm against Mr. Sitt, and thus want to get the rezoning done themselves before the end of 2009.

The problem at Coney, from the city’s vantage point, is a recalcitrant property owner who owns most everything in the central amusement area (including the Astroland site) and won’t agree to a deal to sell his land and give up his vision of redeveloping Coney Island himself. (From the point of view of the landlord, Joe Sitt, the city is boxing him into a position where he is forced to sell much of his land, and develop potentially unviable uses on the rest of it.)

Key to the city’s plan is its intention to designate as parkland a central 9-acre swath of property by the boardwalk, much of which is owned by Mr. Sitt. Thus far the landlord has rejected the city’s offers of tens of millions for the property, and his attorney has said the city’s proposed zoning for the rest of Mr. Sitt’s land would likely be unviable and may be impossible to finance given its specificity.

Earlier this week, Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber told us he was very much prepared to move forward on the rezoning, with or without Mr. Sitt’s cooperation. Without him, the city’s plan would change some: the 9-acre strip of land by the boardwalk would be left with the current zoning, and would not be given the parkland designation that the city has said is so vital.

Be ‘Very, Very Scared’ of Coney Island Without Rezoning, City Warns