Coney Island Planning Moves Forward a Step

January 8, 2009 at 6:04 pm Leave a comment

The city’s Coney Island Comprehensive Rezoning Plan will soon be heading for its public review process and may be looking at an end-of-summer completion date, according to Lynn Kelly, president of the Coney Island Development Corp.

“The Environmental Impact Statement is almost complete, certifying will come in the next few weeks — possibly by the end of January or early February — and then ULURP [the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] can begin,” said Kelly, speaking at a panel on Coney Island yesterday sponsored by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and its Real Estate and Development Committee.

“Following ULURP, we will be issuing an RFP for a developer,” she said.

The event was essentially held to provide Chamber members with an update on the planning and rezoning effort and included two other panelists: Purnima Kapur, director of the Department of City Planning’s Brooklyn office; and Denis Vouderis, who was present as the owner of the Wonder Wheel, one of Coney Island’s landmarks.

Said Kapur, in her presentation, the specific goals are to create a 27-acre year-round entertainment and amusement district; facilitate the development of retail and housing, including affordable housing; and create jobs and job access for area residents.

There are 50,000 residents and a very high unemployment rate (“it’s double the average for the entire city”), according to Kapur.

In addition to the high jobless rate, there are other severe challenges, she said, like a lack of neighborhood retail and services, a lack of diversity in housing options and the seasonality of the area (“it’s desolate except in summer”).

6.8 Million Square Feet of Development Planned

The plan as described by Kapur has the potential for 6.8 million square feet of development to include 1.1 million square feet of amusement and performance space, 500,000 square feet of retail, 950 hotel rooms and 4,500 units of housing with 900 of those affordable.

All of this will be contained in three distinct areas identified as Coney East, Coney North and Coney West. Coney East, from KeySpan Park and Steeplechase Plaza on the west to the Cyclone and Aquarium on the east, is basically the amusement and entertainment area.

New street networks to break down the large blocks are planned, Kapur said, as are a new park at the boardwalk, indoor and outdoor amusement areas, performance venues, hotels along Surf Avenue and dozens of restaurants and cafes (“the current zoning restricts sit-down restaurants”).

“We want to keep it open — the beach, the boardwalk, the amusement area — and expand on it,” she said.

Prohibited uses in Coney East will be residential; large-scale retail and malls; and condos and time-shares.

“Never has there been residential development mixed in with amusement park development,” she said.

Coney West, a six-block area between the boardwalk and Surf Avenue will have new streets, housing and retail along the perimeters of the blocks, structural parking at the centers of those blocks, and a boardwalk with more beach-related uses, like low-rise bars and restaurants, even umbrella rental stands (“there is no place in Coney Island where you can rent an umbrella to spend the day on the beach”).

“We really hope this area will become an active, vibrant retail and residential area,” Kapur said.

Coney North, a five-block area between Surf Avenue and Mermaid Avenue, will also be zoned for residential and retail with parking in the centers of the blocks and hotels permitted along Surf Avenue.

Land Acquisition

The city has begun acquisition of the property, according to Kelly. (This has been previously reported in the Eagle.)

“Once that is achieved, the city is willing to commit the funding to put amusements back into the area,” she said, noting that there was a lot of interest by those attending the recent IAAPA conference in Orlando.

According to Kelly, little steps are being taken in the interim, like hiring Doe Fund workers for sanitation and cleanup, and conducting BID-like activities such as special events, street banners and promotion efforts.

Asked what the city and Chamber can do for him in the interim, Wonder Wheel owner Vouderis said, “Maintain a clean beach and a healthy boardwalk, provide amusements and food for people’s enjoyment.

“It’s a critical time,” he added. “It’s always been a poor man’s paradise and just a subway ride away. We need to keep it that way, keep catering to our clientele.”

In answer to a question about how local operators view the year-round plans, Vouderis said, “It will be wonderful for us. We could maximize our investment, we could capitalize on events beyond the summer season — like at Halloween, for example — if there were some indoor areas.”

Filling 950 Hotel Rooms

Kelly responded to a question about how to fill those 950 hotel rooms by saying, “South Brooklyn is grossly underserved by hotels. There is a great need for places for weddings and bar mitzvahs and other events.”

Beyond that, the CIDC is planning a major marketing effort at JFK, which is only 20 minutes away “on a good day.”

But first, there has to be more to do in Coney Island — more rides, more games, more concerts and more places to eat, she said.

by Linda Collins

Brooklyn Eagle

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Entry filed under: Brooklyn, Go Coastal, Public Waterfront.

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