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White-knuckle ride in Coney: critics file lawsuit

Coney Island ride advocates have filed suit against the city charging the Bloomberg administration ignored expert studies and kowtowed to private developer Thor Equities in its efforts to rezone the world famous amusement district.

Attorney Albert K. Butzel of the Urban Environmental Law Center filed the suit at New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan on November 25 on behalf of the Save Coney Island coalition.

“The goal of this lawsuit is not to stop the redevelopment of Coney Island as a world renowned amusement district,” Butzel said, “but rather to make it possible for that to happen.”

Responding to the interest of private developers and ignoring expert studies, the attorney maintains “the city has so reduced the area available to outdoor amusements that it will not be capable of regenerating a world-class Coney Island.”

The New York City Council approved the controversial rezoning of the Coney Island amusement district back on July 29.

If ultimately approved on the state level, the plan would lay the groundwork for a new 27-acre amusement district between Surf Avenue and the boardwalk.

However, only 12 of those acres would be reserved for outdoor rollercoasters and other “wind-in-the-face” scream machines. More than half of the area would be devoted to indoor amusements and possibly four hi-rise hotels.

Ride advocates, along with the Municipal Arts Society and others have insisted along every step of the rezoning process that the set-aside for outdoor amusements simply does not leave enough room for big-time rides.

“Save Coney Island strongly supports the redevelopment of Coney Island, but the Bloomberg administration’s short-sighted plan puts the interests of real estate speculators ahead of the long-term interests of New Yorkers,” Save Coney Island spokesperson Juan Rivero said.

According to Rivero, the city’s rezoning plan “erases Coney Island’s past and sacrifices its future.”

“New Yorkers don’t want a small amusement park walled off by high-rise towers,” Rivero added. “They want an extraordinary Coney Island worthy of its name and history. This lawsuit keeps that dream alive.”

At the time of this writing, city officials had not yet officially been served with the lawsuit, however, officials at the New York City Law Department characterized the Coney Island amusement district’s rezoning process as entirely “proper.”

“The plan was developed with extensive input from the local community,” the Law Department said in a statement. “The plan will create affordable housing and thousands of jobs in the neighborhood while revitalizing a treasured seaside destination that will attract New Yorkers and millions of visitors each year.”

Critics say that the plan ultimately hammered out over the summer was made to induce Thor Equities to go along with the rezoning rather than for the public’s benefit.

Thor Equities and its principal Joe Sitt still retains about four acres of land in Coney Island after finalizing a deal with the city to sell the rest of his holdings.

“The Bloomberg administration has tried to portray this rezoning as an effort to revitalize Coney Island,” Rivero said. “In fact, this rezoning threatens to irrevocably squander the tremendous potential of this world-renowned ‘people’s Playground.’”

While an intricate parkland demapping process involving the Abe Stark ice skating rink has yet to be approved by the New York State Legislature, the city is going ahead with its search for an interim park operator to come into Coney Island next summer.

Reduced to a gallimaufry of inflatable rides and other questionable substitutes as Sitt and the mayor sparred, the irrepressible amusement district has struggled over the last couple of seasons just to maintain foot traffic.

Last month, Bloomberg emissaries attended the 2009 International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions expo in Las Vegas, Nevada to scout out a new interim park operator.

The City’s RFP %u2013 Request for Proposals %u2013 from prospective operators is due next week.

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