While preservationists provided most of the histrionics at last week’s scoping meeting on the rezoning of Coney Island, the amusement district’s largest property owner continued to dig his heels into the ground over negotiations with the city.
The issue that drew the loudest noise on the massive 19-block plan was the city’s recent pull-back – from 16 to nine acres – of turning the zoned amusement district into city-owned parkland.
“The city hasn’t given anything to the developer,” said Jesse Masyr, the land use attorney for Joe Sitt and his company, Thor Equities, which own about 10 acres of the area currently zoned for outdoor amusements.
“We own the land. It’s our land. Nobody’s given us anything. That’s a mischaracterization. At one time the city’s plan was to have a larger park then what it’s currently showing at this moment, but at all times it’s out land.
“This park they are proposing is predominantly owned by Thor. There are other owners that own parts of it also,” he added.
Masyr said the preservationists of the carnival and working-class style amusement area have a lack of understanding, and that what’s necessary is a project that works 12 months out of the year and not just in the heat of the summer.
“A three-month plan is quaint, but it has no economic viability,” he said.
“We [the city and Thor] continue to talk to each other, not at each other. We don’t have a resolution of our issues. Our issues are to make sure there is a viable economic plan, the details of which we still don’t have,” said Masyr.
Preservationists, led by Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun, offered impassioned sentiments that the city was selling out the spirit of Coney Island to developers and “corporate greed.”
Zigun publicly resigned his position as a member of the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) board “because the people I have spoken up for my entire adult life need my voice now more than ever.”
“Astroland and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park cannot speak up because they are negotiating leases with Joe Sitt.,” said Zigun.
“Coney Island is a national treasure, not a local issue, and the attraction is the amusement industry. I ask you, I urge you, I beg you to cancel this plan,” he added.
The rezoning plan also had its supporters such as CIDC board member Sheryl Robertson, who is also executive director of the South Brooklyn Youth Consortium in Coney Island.
“I think the revised plan is the right way to go. We have a perfect scenario right now with all elected officials on board. We have tons and tons of vacant property on Surf Avenue. If we don ‘t take this opportunity, I don’t know when we will have this opportunity to develop again,” said Robertson.
“I understand their [preservationist] sentiments about Coney Island, but I don’t believe we can mortgage the future generations on sentimentality. They need to have access to affordable housing. They need to have access to jobs. Right now every day kids come into my office because there’s no jobs in New York City. It would be wonderful if they could have jobs available in their own community.”
Brooklyn City Planning Director Purnima Kapur said the city decided to propose taking nine acres of the amusement area for parkland because of the feeling that it would allow for the creation of a more year-round presence.
This will allow the creation of indoor venues such as bowling alleys that will flow seamlessly from indoor to outdoor amusements, she said.
Both Kapur and CIDC President Lynn Kelly said the rezoning certification is expected to be completed by late 2008.
Kelly said actual work on the redevelopment of Coney Island will start in the next mayoral administration.