At Monday’s public hearing on the City’s controversial plan to use eminent domain to acquire six privately owned lots for “the revitalization of Coney Island,” drawings show 12th Street Amusements’ Ghost Hole ride on “Block 8696, parts of lot 140” destined for condemnation. The land to the right of the ride, where a longtime Mom and Pop sublease property to operate a High Striker, is also on the part of the lot to be seized by the City. “There are no proposed alternative locations,” the public notice for the hearing published in the NY Post sternly warns.
The reason for the acquisitions was revealed: “Certain replacement parkland” is needed because of “the de-mapping of existing parkland,” stated the Parks Department attorney who ran the hearing. He did not explicitly say which parkland would be demapped, and since “this is not a question and answer forum” (he said twice), no questions were answered. However, it is published information and old news dating back to the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009, except that most people either forgot or never knew that the MCU parking lot, which is parkland owned by the City, is to be de-mapped and sold to a developer. What for? The construction of residential towers with height limits in the range of the Parachute Jump.
Among those who spoke out against it at those long ago rezoning hearings was preservationist Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City, who said “In Paris, the Eiffel Tower is framed by parkland. Why is that impossible here?” Refresh your memory by looking at the City’s renderings from 2007. In order to de-map parkland, the State requires that it be replaced with parkland of equal acreage and the City must apply to the State for alienation legislation. However, with the Bloomberg administration’s zoning nearly 6 years ago and a new Mayor who ran as the anti-Bloomberg in place who knew the plan was still a go?
As we wrote in “Steeplechase Pool, Zip Coaster Sites to Be De-Mapped for Housing” (January 11, 2010)
It’s a shame that part of the City’s Steeplechase property is set to become a residential enclave with million dollar views instead of additional acreage for Coney Island’s new amusement park.The fact that the Giuliani administration paved over Paradise–part of the Steeplechase Park site–to allow parkland to be turned into the Keyspan parking lot is bad enough (nod to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”). Now the Bloomberg administration is asking the state legislature to “alienate” and de-map the parkland/parking lot so it can be sold to a private developer to build 1,900 units of housing.
The Brooklyn Cyclones ballpark was built on the site of Steeplechase’s Pavilion of Fun, but the ballpark is a recreational use and helped revitalize Coney Island when it opened in 2001. A mass of apartment towers on the edge of a dwarfed amusement area is another story, though the City insists 5,000 units of housing is a necessary component of their plan to revitalize Coney Island.
News reports prior to Monday’s hearing focused on the acquisition of long vacant land such as the former Thunderbolt lot, but the land grab is not about punishing property owners for keeping their holdings vacant. If it were, Thor Equities’ blighted lot on Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, among others, and Bullard’s Shore Theater, vacant for 40 years, would also be on the list of properties to be taken by condemnation.
As we already noted, the proposed acquisition includes property currently and historically used for amusement attractions. “Block 8696, parts of lot 140” is owned by the Murray family and has been used for amusement rides for over 100 years, Carol Murray said in her comments at the hearing. The taking of the land constituted “abuse,” she added. In negotiations with the City’s Economic Development Corporation, she said she is being asked to sell the property to the City, which will then lease a portion of it back to her to operate the amusements that already exist on the spot. “It fails to meet the standards of eminent domain,” she said.
While many of our Coney friends have said they’re in the dark about what the City is up to, eminent domain in Coney Island is nothing new. Remember Robert Moses? (ICYMI Read Chapter 5 of Charles Denson’s Coney Island: Lost and Found). Remember the behind the scenes bargaining leading up to the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009? (ICYMI See Amy Nicholson’s film Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride). In fact, why write new text when we can recycle old ATZ blog posts that are pertinent once again. As we wrote in “Eminent Domain in Coney Island? Fuhgeddaboutit!” (July 31, 2012):
The Bloomberg administration was right to back off from the idea of taking land by condemnation from Thor Equities and other Coney Island property owners during the rezoning hearings in 2009. Under sharp questioning by City Council land use committee members, the EDC’s Seth Pinsky was forced to admit, “I’m not saying we will use eminent domain, but in fairness to your question, I’m not saying we won’t.” In order to get Council members to agree to vote for the zoning, the EDC instead had to negotiate an agreement to buy property from Thor Equities. At the same time, other property owners were no longer threatened by E.D.
We attended that land use committee hearing too, and left with the impression ED was off the table. But that was the Bloomberg administration. A new administration doesn’t have to follow the playbook of the previous one. Back in the ’60s Fred Trump destroyed Steeplechase Park, one of Coney Island’s most famous amusement parks, confident that he would get to develop the “south side” of Surf. That effort failed. The City rejected Trump’s proposed zoning change to develop Miami-style apartments on the beachfront where they approved them in the rezoning of 2009.
Fred’s son Donald Trump has been in the news recently for saying “eminent domain is wonderful.” No one suggested anything like that at Monday’s hearing. The support was tepid with the exception of Dick Zigun, Coney Island’s self-proclaimed Mayor, who jumped on the ED bandwagon by saying “Finish the job.”
Pamela Pettyjohn of the Coney Island Beautification Project said, “Once you open the door for eminent domain, you can’t close it back. It can be abused. Everyone can be in jeopardy.” Ironically the Supreme Court case of Kelo v the City of New London that makes it possible for the City to condemn privately owned property so that it could be used as part of a “comprehensive redevelopment plan” did not turn out to be for the public good in New London. The seized property is a vacant lot ten years after the court’s decision.