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NYT Weighs in on Coney Plan and Endorses MAS Recommendations

coney island aerial beach by jaspar goldmanAs the City Council prepares to vote on the Coney Island rezoning, The New York Times ran an editorial today urging its passage and at the same time supporting MAS’ recommendations to improve the plan.

“We like the Municipal Art Society’s idea of doubling the size of the amusement area and removing hotels from the south side of Surf Avenue. This way, when visitors get off the subway, they will meet sunlight and open air, not a high-rise barricade.”

MAS strongly support the City’s goals of revitalizing Coney Island, but believes the plan can be improved to make Coney Island the absolute best destination and benefit to the city it can be. Read The New York Times editorial in its entirety after the “continue reading” jump. Click here to read MAS’ statement to the City Council and see our massing study.

A Plan for Coney Island

This article was originally published in The New York Times on July 12, 2009.

At some point, New York City will have to stop the long, slow, perpetual dying of Coney Island. It’s not dead yet, of course: landmarked rides like the Cyclone rumble on, and a few funkily indestructible carny attractions survive, along with the boardwalk, the hot dogs and the sea and sky. There’s a nice ballpark. But Coney Island’s real grandeur was lost decades ago. The area is shot through with empty lots, cracked pavement and weeds.

This is the year the place could get moving again, if the City Council approves an ambitious redevelopment proposal from the Bloomberg administration. It calls for revitalized year-round amusements, badly needed apartments and new retail and commercial development. Coney Island is not just a decrepit carnival — it’s a community starving for civic amenities, affordable housing and jobs, all of which could flourish amid the tacky splendor of a reborn seaside paradise.

The plan is headed toward a final vote this month. The hurdles are significant, including a standoff between the city and a developer, Joseph Sitt, whose company owns about 10 acres in the heart of the area. Mr. Sitt paid $93 million for those acres, undoubtedly anticipating that zoning changes would lead to a nice profit. The city offered $105 million, but he rejected that fair price.

The city wants to buy out Mr. Sitt and rezone the nine-acre outdoor amusement district as parkland. That would powerfully deter future administrations from damaging this civic treasure, since only the State Legislature can undo parkland zoning. The Council should approve the new zoning while also improving the plan.

We like the Municipal Art Society’s idea of doubling the size of the amusement area and removing hotels from the south side of Surf Avenue. This way, when visitors get off the subway, they will meet sunlight and open air, not a high-rise barricade.

We hope the Council steps up and gets the job done. Much depends on Domenic Recchia Jr., Coney Island’s councilman, who has been skeptical of the city’s plan while stoutly defending the interests of landowners, like his friend Mr. Sitt. Mr. Recchia should know as well as anyone that empty lots, rusting amusement rides and nonexistent apartments and jobs are a horrible fate for Coney Island. The sooner the city seizes the chance to turn it around, the better.