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Criticism of Coney Island rezoning softens

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With two key endorsements now under its belt, the city is quickly closing in on a successful conclusion to the rezoning of Coney Island and the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Even Dick Zigun, the man who has led many a protest against the city’s plan to revive the amusement district and usher in new housing and retail, sounds like he’s ready to doff his top hat to Mayor Bloomberg and wholeheartedly endorse his administra­tion’s efforts.

“I think the protests are a tool and there was a time and a place when I needed to be dramatic,” Zigun said this week. “I can’t say I specifically made it happen — but once the Municipal Art Society got involved and spent the money to bring in experts and advocate for a large amusement park, I think that mission was accomplished and I’m not so much about making noise and yelling at people anymore.”

Zigun’s comments came inside Coney Island USA’s “Freak Bar” on Surf Avenue at the conclusion of a neighborhood walking tour this newspaper took with New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky and Coney Island Development Corporation President Lynn Kelly.

“We’ve got two political issues,” Pinsky said on the boardwalk overlooking the proposed rezoning area. “One is getting through the city rezoning which involves getting it through the City Council −− and that’s what’s needed to allow the redevelopment and the new uses in the area. The second obstacle that we face is the alienation of the parkland, which is really parking lot, and getting the State Legislature to agree to allow us to alienate that parkland and put real parkland into the amusement district which is really important for benefiting the 50,000 residents of Coney Island because that’s what gets them the jobs, the retail and the services.”

The city’s rezoning proposal projects the construction of 4,500 new units of housing, hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail and community use space and a 27−acre amusement district.

Borough President Marty Markowitz recently joined Community Board 13 in endorsing the city’s rezoning proposal.

The City Planning Commission is expected to deliver its recommendations to the City Council next month.

As this paper was going to press, the city was also getting ready to convene the first meeting of its Amusement Advisory Panel comprising industry leaders like James “Chip” Cleary, chair of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and others.

In addition to Zigun, the city, too, appears to be on very good terms with Dennis Vourderis, owner and operator of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.

As reported here earlier, Vourderis is upset with aspects of the city’s rezoning plan because it might mean a newly created street called “Wonder Wheel Way” would bisect his family’s park.

“You don’t always have to map a city street,” Coney Island Development Corporation President Lynn Kelly said. “You could have easements ... there are all different combinations in the zoning code, and that’s what we’re trying to work out with him [Vourderis] so that he can have an uninterrupted park. We certainly want him to be here.”

Although he would still like to see more parkland allocated to outdoor amusements, Zigun says the biggest obstacle to a revitalized Coney Island remains Thor Equities and its principal Joe Sitt.

“Unfortunat­ely, we have all gotten sidetracked by the intentions of Thor Equities which came in and bought the properties specifically in the core area where we were promised, and where we expect revitalized amusements,” Zigun said. “They could have purchased the property in Coney North or Coney West where everybody − the city, the Coney Island Development Corporation, even the amusement park advocates − understand the compromise, and say, okay in those areas we are going to do housing and we are going to do retail. But they want that same compromise in the core.”

If Thor gets its way, Zigun fears Coney Island would end up looking like the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

Thor Equities recently rejected the city’s $105 million offer to acquire land stretching from Stillwell Avenue to West 10th Street.

“They [Thor] paid about $93 million, which was a lot of money for this land, which is a $12 million return, and Thor’s response was a non−response − essentially saying it’s not enough, we want more,” Pinsky said.

Despite splashy illustrations from Thor depicting the contrary, Pinsky maintains that based on what they paid for their land, Thor Equities never intended to build an amusement park in Coney Island.

Thor Equities refutes such charges, but did not elaborate further.

“Thor talks a good talk about wanting to see this as an amusement district, but if they really wanted to see it as an amusement district, they never would have paid the prices that they paid for this land,” Pinsky said.

Nevertheless, city officials are still betting they can achieve a “fair outcome” for both parties.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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