Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Our Noticing New York Testimony at Yesterday’s Community Board Hearing on City’s Proposed Coney Island Rezoning

More on last night’s hearing later, but in the interim, here is our testimony delivered at the community board hearing on city’s proposed Coney Island rezoning. We submitted our full testimony in writing. In our allocated three minutes for oral testimony we were only able to finish reading through paragraph 5.

Noticing New York’s Testimony

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March 3, 2009

Brooklyn Community Board 13

Re: Today’s Community Board Hearing on Coney Island Rezoning.

Dear Community Board 13:

This testimony is presented in the name of Noticing New York, which addresses itself to issues of what is good public policy and planning critical to New York development issues.

1. The Coney Island Rezoning, as proposed, is destroying Coney Island, particularly its ability to function as an amusement area by sending out a wrong message. The right message can be sent out by rejecting it.

2. The enemy of the Coney Island amusement area has never been the economics of amusement park operation. Going back to Fred Trump’s 1966 destruction of Steeplechase Park, the enemy of Coney Island has always been speculation about what other possible alternative uses might be made of areas set aside for amusement. Going back to Fred Trump, that speculation has also involved the notion that not only could a zoning change be forced by amusement park destruction, but also that the public would subsidize something to replace it.

3. Development speculators have, with a particularly ferocity of late, been destroying more of Coney’s amusement area because of the message that the city’s Bloomberg administration is sending out. Approval of the city’s proposed rezoning will only serve to reinforce that destructive message. The message that is being sent is that speculation will rewarded. And yet, in all likelihood the dismantled amusement area will lie fallow for decades to come.

4. The city says that it is theoretically opposed to and wants to counter the development speculation activities of Joe Sitt, but the message this proposed plan and its possible adoption sends is designed to drive up the price that the city has to pay to acquire any land from Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities and put more money in his pocket.

5. Who will lose under this plan? The community and the city at large, but also anyone who afterward continues to own Coney amusement area property unless they too intend to profit from a continuing eviction of amusements. To work as an amusement area, Coney’s amusements cannot be shrunk beneath a certain minimum viable size. Setting aside the wildly disparate ways in which that minimum area has been calculated, many of which are apparently intended to confuse those listening, we think that the Municipal Art Society has provided the most neutral and reliable evaluation of how much space must remain in the Coney amusement area in order for there to be a viable amusement future. What MAS calls for should be viewed as a minimum, not a maximum or even a goal. The city, on the other hand, seems only to be playing into the hands of the speculators.

6. The Municipal Art Society is also absolutely right in calling for all the high-rise buildings to be relocated north of Surf Avenue and in calling for key historic resources to be protected, including but not limited to the Nathan's building and the Shore Public Theater.

7. The city plan purports to provide a future amusement area. That is a mirage because the proposed amusement area is too small. It is also a mirage because the plan that purportedly creates this reduced amusement area sends out a message that speculation that destroys precisely such amusement areas will be rewarded. Who would believe that more such destructive speculation won’t continue to receive reward in the future? Just think: the currently proposed rezoning rewards the destruction of a workably-sized amusement area. Why would one expect that, afterwards, an unworkably-sized smaller remnant of the Coney amusement area would be protected from destructive future speculation?

Attached are two recent Noticing New York articles commenting on Coney Island. For greater depth, those pieces refer and link to other previous Noticing New York commentary. (See:Friday, December 26, 2008, Coney Island- Grinch Story and Wednesday, November 5, 2008, Back In the Coney Island Saddle?)

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