Kruger challenges mayor – Says state review is needed in Coney Island rezoning

By Stephen Witt

The city’s Coney Island preliminary rezoning plans — including swapping city parkland for private property — is hitting some snags. The latest are charges from State Sen. Carl Kruger that in order to make the swap — which must have state legislative approval — an extensive environmental review is needed first. Citing a recent advisory opinion from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Kruger said the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is needed – a review that could help outlast the Bloomberg administration’s final two years and thus the rezoning plan. “The city may want to take parkland in Coney Island, but it can’t have it – at least not without a comprehensive state environmental review process that could tie up the project for years or sink it into oblivion,” said Kruger, an ardent foe of the preliminary rezoning plan. “The city has committed the monumental crime of omission by making the public believe that its plan to reinvent Coney Island is a done deal,” he added. SEQRA calls for more formalized study of impacts on air, water, and the rest of the natural environment as well as looking at infrastructure needs of the rezoning. The Bloomberg rezoning plan proposes, among other things, to turn about 50 contiguous acres of Coney Island waterfront into parkland stretching from West 24th Street along the waterfront all the way east to Asser Levy Park. This includes about 9.6 acres of existing mapped parkland next to KeySpan Park, 16.4 acres of proposed parkland and 15 acres of proposed parkland in the existing area already zoned C7 for outdoor amusements. Thor Equities and its principal, Joe Sitt, already own about 10 acres of this amusement area, generally from Stillwell Avenue east to the Cyclone roller coaster, and from Surf Avenue to the Boardwalk. Other property owners in the area include Horace Bullard and the Vourderis family, which owns Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. Once the parkland is approved through state legislation, the city would then issue requests for proposals (RFPs) to entities interested into developing a year-round indoor/outdoor amusement park. When the preliminary zoning was first announced about two months ago, both Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff indicated that they don’t believe eminent domain would be necessary to turn the property into parkland. Instead, they said the city plans to negotiate in good faith with all the property owners. However, both Sitt and the Vourderis family have indicated a reluctance to give up any of their property. “The rumors of our negotiating with the city to sell are false. Our objective has always been and still is to work with the city to revitalize Coney Island,” said Sitt spokesperson Stefan Friedman. Dennis Vourderis noted that the Wonder Wheel Park has been in his family for four generations and another generation is waiting in the wings to take it over. It would take a ridiculous offer on the city’s part to sell, he said, one where future generations of the family could understand the decision. Vourderis noted that Bloomberg was recently quoted in China as saying entrepreneurship is best for the public and stimulates the economy. “He preaches that private business is what keeps business competitive, but yet there’s talk about the city becoming involved in amusements. So there’s a little bit of discrepancy about his belief in China and his belief in New York,” said Vourderis. Economic Development Corporation spokesperson Janel Patterson said the city remains in constant talks with all the property owners in Coney Island, but refused comment on any negotiations. In regard to the need for SEQRA, Patterson said, “The city will comply with all legally mandated reviews and approval processes in the execution of this important project.”

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