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Dire warning for Coney Island

“We may lose Coney Island forever.”

That’s the dire warning coming from Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) President Lynn Kelly this week in response to growing criticism from many quarters in Coney Island that the CIDC’s rezoning plan just doesn’t cut it.

Members of the community, amusement industry and local government have all expressed frustration with both the plan’s contents and how it is developing.

“Every time we turn around there’s something new,” Marlboro Houses resident and Community Board 13 member Sara Lee McWhite told the Bay News.

The city’s rezoning plan centers on three distinct sectors in Coney Island while designating nine acres inside the amusement core as parkland.

“Fundamentally, if we don’t work hard and get this zoning passed, it is quite possible that we may lose Coney Island forever,” Kelly said. “There is no guarantee that in any future administration they will put the needs of Coney Island first like this one has.”

The city hopes to begin the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) at the start of 2009 and have newly-zoned land ready to build on by next fall.

“There is no guarantee what will happen next summer,” Kelly said. “Our only insurance policy is the rezoning.”

Despite the city’s ambitious timetable, concern that “America’s Playground” is rapidly on its way to becoming little more than a generic shopping mall with a few less-than thrilling rides and attractions thrown in persist – something Kelly adamantly rejects.

“There is no mall for Coney Island,” she said. “We don’t want a Kings Plaza in Coney East.”

Maybe not a Kings Plaza mall, but serious concerns that a very un-Coney Island “Mall of America” could one day rise between KeySpan Park and the World Famous Cyclone remain strong.

“We need to know for certain what all the players are going to do,” McWhite said. “We might zone for something we may never see.”

There are other objections to the rezoning plan as well. The city’s proposal to construct 1,000 units of affordable housing out of an overall projected 4 to 5,000 new units of housing, falls far short of the 50 percent affordability number local groups like Coney Island CLEAR and Coney Island United are advocating.

“We are doing affordable housing as part of all our projects,” said Kelly.

Displeasure with the city’s rezoning framework is so great that more than a few are suggesting redevelopment efforts should instead be concentrated on the roughly 61 acres of Coney Island already zoned C-7 for amusements.

Kelly puts that number as high as 70 acres, but with only five of them presently supporting active amusements.

“So, the zoning hasn’t worked,” she said. “It’s hardly been a 60-acre amusement park. We need to do something. Why in 40 or 50 years has nobody done that?”

Kelly also said, “I would be less concerned with technical details and more with the fact that we can lose Coney Island.”

But “technical details” do concern a lot of people.

“A lot of things in the plans they have not answered definitively,” McWhite insisted. “We’d like to have this.”

Despite the meetings and scoping sessions already held, stakeholders like McWhite are still uncomfortable with the way the city has addressed – or failed to adequately address – critical Coney Island issues like traffic, infrastructure, and jobs.

“Jobs is the main concern,” McWhite said. “It isn’t whether [Thor Equities principal] Joe Sitt is going to flip property, we care about what is going to be built.”

Without answers to those questions, McWhite said voting for the city’s rezoning plan will be like “voting in the dark.”

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