Friday, April 18, 2008

Coney Island Day After: "Recent Modest Adjustments" to Plan

Removed From Plan Small

Coney Island Development Corp. President Lynn Kelly sent out an email late yesterday about what she called "recent modest adjustments to the Coney Island zoning framework that have both strengthened our finalized plans and will help to move this critically important project toward completion." Ms. Kelly adds that the changes have "increased development opportunities for enclosed amusements and year-round entertainment retail uses." Yesterday, a story in the New York Times noted that the city had reduced the amount of land it wanted to acquire and redevelop as an amusement park from 15 acres to 9 acres. (The land removed from the plan is shown in blue, which we superimposed on an original city map of the plan.) The revision would leave six acres of land in the hands of private owners, most notably developer Joe Sitt, who would retain ownership of significant parcels. Neither the Times article nor Kelly's letter spelled out the exact uses or building height that would be allowed on the land. Here are some excerpts from the letter:
While the zoning framework we announced last Fall was a detailed and thoughtful realization of these core principles (and many more), we said from the outset that it was also a work in progress and that we would continue to work with Coney Island’s elected officials, community leaders, land owners and residents to ensure that the final plan was the best it could possibly be.

I am pleased, therefore, to be able to update you on some recent modest adjustments to the Coney Island zoning framework that have both strengthened our finalized plans and will help to move this critically important project toward completion. This revised framework represents an extremely strong foundation for Coney Island’s revitalization and we are excited about now moving forward with it through the public review process. While we will be sharing much more detailed information with you and other Coney Island stakeholders soon, we wanted to share just a few brief updates on some of these modifications:

* We have increased development opportunities for enclosed amusements and year-round entertainment retail uses

* To accommodate this increased development, while still preserving a major amusement district and enabling us to develop a world class amusement park, we have decreased the size of the new mapped parkland from 15 to 9 acres

* We have created the opportunity for existing land owners – such as long time Coney Island boosters like the Vourderis family, owners of the Wonder Wheel – to develop their properties

Along with these positive changes, we have maintained our commitment to the fundamental aspects of the Coney Island plan, such as the need to create additional active, exciting, year-round entertainment-related uses in Coney East and prevent the district from becoming a generic seaside shopping mall; our steadfast belief that residential housing is not appropriate for the amusement district; and a continued effort to limit higher-density hotels and taller structures to the areas along Surf Avenue, away from the Boardwalk.

As you can see, while some details have been altered in our quest to make this plan a reality, what hasn’t changed is our commitment to our core principles and our overall vision for what Coney Island should – and shouldn’t – be as we secure its long term well-being. We are proud that we are already receiving positive feedback from key stakeholders on our recent efforts – for example, as you will note in the attached article, Councilman Domenic Recchia, Borough President Marty Markowitz and key landowners such as Dennis Vourderis told the NY Times that they were “optimistic” and believed the City “was headed in the right direction” – and we look forward to bringing you up to date with additional information in the near future.
This morning, on WNYC, Mr. Sitt's land use attorney called the revised proposal "a major step forward." A significant amount of the land that has been removed from the amusement park plan belongs to Mr. Sitt and his firm, Thor Equities. State legislation would still be needed to allow the transfer of "parkland" that would complete the deal. Presumably, that would face less political opposition if Mr. Sitt--who would get to develop more land in the heart of the amusement district and acquire well-positioned land where highrise residential development would not draw opposition--and other property owners were on board and behind the significantly revised strategy. Much, much more to come.

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