Grassroots activist group Save Coney Island announced today that it had filed a lawsuit challenging the Bloomberg administration’s rezoning of Coney Island’s amusement area. Several Coney Island residents and amusement district workers and performers joined Save Coney Island as plaintiffs.
The suit was filed Wednesday, November 25 at New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan by attorney Albert K. Butzel of the Urban Environmental Law Center, who is representing the plaintiffs. The suit seeks to have the rezoning declared illegal and annulled.
The Bloomberg administration’s rezoning plan, which passed the City Council on July 29, dramatically shrinks Coney Island’s famed amusement district, leaving a proposed amusement park that is restricted to a narrow, 12-acre strip of land. The rezoning allows the insertion of four hotel towers — rising up to 27 stories tall — along the south side of Surf Avenue in the heart of the historic amusement district. The placement of the proposed high-rises invites developers to tear down Coney Island’s handful of remaining historic buildings, including Nathan’s Famous and several structures that are more than a century old.
“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 interests of private developers and ignoring expert studies, the City has so reduced the area available for outdoor amusements that it will not be capable of regenerating a world-class Coney Island. In evaluating the impacts of the rezoning, the City ignored this and other critical information. That and its knuckling under to private development interests violated the law.”
The lawsuit contends that the rezoning was effected in violation of the State Environmental Quality Review Act and other relevant laws. The plaintiffs assert that the City’s Environmental Impact Statement on the rezoning failed to adequately address expert testimony from the Municipal Art Society concluding that the area allotted for amusements under the rezoning was too small to create a viable amusement park, that it failed to take a hard look at the visual impact of the proposed high-rise hotels, and that it failed to adequately consider impacts on Coney Island’s historic resources.
The suit also contends that changes made by the City to an earlier version of its rezoning plan — such as the placement of new high-rise hotels and the reduction of the size of the mapped amusement area — were not made for public benefit, but were instead for the private benefit of Thor Equities and to induce the developer to go along with the rezoning.
Over the past two years, Save Coney Island had urged the Bloomberg administration to fix its rezoning plan by expanding acreage reserved for amusements and relocating the proposed hotels outside the heart of the amusement district. These recommendations, which were ignored by the Bloomberg administration, had been echoed by the Municipal Art Society, the editorial board of The New York Times, numerous Coney Island stakeholders, and 15 prominent historians of New York City.
“The Bloomberg administration has tried to portray this rezoning as an effort to revitalize Coney Island,” said Save Coney Island spokesman Juan Rivero. “In fact, this rezoning threatens to irrevocably squander the tremendous potential of this world-renowned ‘People’s Playground.’”
“Save Coney Island strongly supports the redevelopment of Coney Island,” Rivero added. “But the Bloomberg administration’s short-sighted plan puts the interests of real estate speculators ahead of the long-term interest of New Yorkers. This 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. They want an extraordinary Coney Island worthy of its name and history. This lawsuit keeps that dream alive.”