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Posts Tagged ‘Eminent Domain’

Monica

Monica, the High Striker Queen of Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island’s High Striker Queen is the first victim of the City’s scheme to use eminent domain to acquire six privately owned lots for “the revitalization of Coney Island.” One of the lots is the location where Monica and her partner Jeff ran their popular Mom & Pop “hit the hammer, ring the bell” game for the past four seasons. In an interview with ATZ, our crying and distraught friend said that on Sunday, just three weeks before Coney’s opening day, she was told by a rep of 12th Street Amusements that she could not set up this year. “I’m heartbroken. If I can’t find another place, I’m going to leave Coney Island for the last time.”

“Block 8696, parts of lot 140” at 3025 West 12th Street is owned by the Murray family and has been used for amusements for over 100 years, according to testimony by Carol Murray at the October 19, 2015 eminent domain hearing, as ATZ previously reported (“Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land,” ATZ, October 20. 2015).

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 NYCEDC’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 NYCEDC instead had to negotiate an agreement to buy property from Thor Equities. At the same time, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and other property owners were no longer threatened by E.D.

Block 8696 parts of lot 140

Block 8696, parts of lot 140 on West 12th Street. The area marked in red, where the Ghost Hole is located and the High Striker was until recently, is to be taken by eminent domain. October 19, 2015

Now the de Blasio administration plans to take this piece of land by condemnation to complete Wonder Wheel Way, a pedestrian walkway hatched by city planners and enshrined in the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009. The idea is to connect the landmark Parachute Jump, Wonder Wheel and Cyclone. But the walkway would cut through 12th Street Amusements, as well as Wonder Wheel Park and Luna Park, forcing the removal or relocation of rides and attractions in its path, including 12th Street’s Ghost Hole and the indie High Striker.

Twelfth Street Amusement’s Guerrero family, who own and operate the Polar Express, Ghost Hole and two other rides, have a long-term lease on the Murray property and since 2012 had sublet the southernmost corner of it to Monica and Jeff for their High Striker. Just prior to the October 2015 hearing, Monica and her partner were forced to cut short the season and remove all of their equipment.

Ghost Hole

12th Street Amusements’ Ghost Hole and Monica’s High Striker are in the path of the City’s proposed extension of Wonder Wheel Way. October 11, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

“Up until today, I was led to believe there was a chance I could come back. Now I’m left scrambling,” said Monica, who has been displaced before due to changes in land ownership, yet she always managed to come back. When ATZ worked a game on Jones Walk in 2008, Monica was a few doors down. She had locations on the Bowery prior to moving to West 12th Street. Now however, Monica says: “There’s very limited space available for us. Because of people buying up property, there’s next to nothing.”

ATZ asked attorney Jennifer Polovetsky, whose law firm Sanchez & Polovetsky handles eminent domain cases, including the last holdouts at Atlantic Yards, whether displaced subtenants as well as tenants are eligible for compensation. “It depends on the terms of the lease and whether there are eligible trade fixtures,” said Polovetsky. “There’s not a blanket rule.”

Wonder Wheel Way

Wonder Wheel Way is a work in progress. Section between Stillwell Ave and West 15th St used as a parking lot for Luna Park. October 11, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

January 28, 2016: EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Persily Recalls Family’s Coney Island Years After Sale of Property to Thor Equities

November 9, 2015: Thor Equities Buying 3 Lots on Coney Island’s Bowery, Mom & Pops Await Rent Increase Amid Rumors of Hotel

October 20, 2015: Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

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Ghost Hole

12th Street Amusements’ Ghost Hole is smack dab in the path of the City’s proposed extension of Wonder Wheel Way. October 11, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

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.

Block 8696 parts of lot 140

Block 8696, parts of lot 140. the area marked in red is to be taken by eminent domain. October 19, 2015

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?

Coney Island Aerial: Detail of Conceptual Rendering. CIDC Press Kit, 2007.

Coney Island Aerial: Detail of Conceptual Rendering Shows Residential Towers West and North of Keyspan Park, now MCU Park. CIDC Press Kit, 2007

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.

Detail of CIDC Map of of Coney Island Redevelopment Plan.  Salmon and cream color denote residential and residential towers north and west of MCU Park

Detail of CIDC Map of of Coney Island Redevelopment Plan. Salmon and cream color denote residential and residential towers north and west of MCU Park, 2007

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.

eminent domain hearing

Carol Murray, whose family owns a lot leased to 12th St Amusements that is set to be taken by eminent domain by the City, calls the procedure “abuse” at public hearing. October 19, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

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.

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Shore Theater

Vacant and for Sale: The Shore Theater, on left, viewed from the Thunderbolt lot, a 3-acre development site. July 30, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The above photo taken yesterday shows Coney Island’s long-vacant Shore Theater, on the left, viewed from the three-acre development site where the Thunderbolt roller coaster, illegally demolished by the City in 2000, once stood. Both are owned by Horace Bullard and are among two dozen privately owned properties advertised for sale or lease on a Coney Island Development Corp. map of retail opportunities in 2011 and 2012. The Shore Theater has an asking price of $13 million and the Thunderbolt parcel says “Submit all Offers.” Nobody snapped ’em up yet. If you think about it, buyers are few in Coney’s over-priced amusement area. There’s the City and Thor Equities. Plus Coney Island USA, which bought the building next door to their sideshow headquarters.

Coney Island USA’s artistic director Dick Zigun and Brooklyn Daily deserve credit for calling attention to the plight of the Shore Theater, which has been shuttered for more than 35 years. In December 2010, the City landmarked the exterior and presumably would like to see the building restored. But in our opinion, Zigun saying that the City should seize the Shore from its owner and the Brooklyn Daily doing a reader poll on the E.D. issue is grandstanding to make a point.

The Shore Theater, formerly the Loew's Coney Island, is up for City landmark designation. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Shore Theater, formerly the Loews Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and other property owners were no longer threatened by E.D.

As for the Shore, the City should either come up with the money to buy Bullard’s property or find a buyer. Community Board 13’s land use committee voted yes on the Coney Island rezoning, but one of the non-binding stipulations was that the City buy the theater and make it into a community arts center. What happened to that idea? Ideally BP Marty Markowitz could use the $64 million set aside for the Seaside Park amphitheater to purchase and renovate the Shore. Or somebody can start a “Chip in” to buy the Shore and Mayor Bloomberg can make it one of his charitable projects. The City should buy the Thunderbolt parcel too and use it to right Mayor Giuliani’s wrong and rebuild either the Thunderbolt or the Tornado.

As far as we know, there’s no precedent for the Landmarks Preservation Commission taking property by Eminent Domain. There is however the precedent of a Demolition by Neglect lawsuit which, if successful, requires the owner to fix up the property or sell it. As ATZ reported at the time of the Shore’s landmarking in December 2010:

If the building is landmarked, Demolition by Neglect laws could come into play. The New York City demolition by neglect ordinance states, “every [owner] of a landmark site or historic district shall keep in good repair (1) all of the exterior portions of such improvement and (2) all interior portions thereof which, if not so maintained, may cause or tend to cause the exterior portions of such improvement to deteriorate, decay or become damaged or otherwise to fell into a state of disrepair.” NEW YORK, N.Y., CODE § 25-311 (2001).

Last year [2009], in a precedent setting lawsuit, the City was awarded $1.1 million in civil penalties and gave the owners of the landmarked Windermere apartments a choice of fixing the property or selling it. “This settlement sends a message to owners of landmarked buildings that they must keep them in a state of good repair,” said Robert B. Tierney, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in a New York City Law Department press release about the case. “Buildings like the Windermere are an indispensable part of New York City’s architectural heritage and must be preserved for future generations.”

A rare glimpse of the ornate interior of the Shore Theater, photographed by historian Charles Denson, is on view at the Coney Island History Project exhibit center though September 3rd.

UPDATE August 4, 2012

Charles Denson’s beautiful photos of the Shore Theater interior made into a heartbreaking video. Watch it here.

Coney Island Theatre Building.  Photo © katherine of chicago via flickr

Coney Island Theatre Building. Photo © katherine of chicago via flickr

Related posts on ATZ…

October 20, 2015: Goodbye Ghost Hole, MCU Parking Lot? City’s Coney Land Grab Not Just Vacant Land

January 10, 2012: Will Casino Gold Rush of 1970s Replay in Coney Island

December 14, 2010: Amid Demolitions & Evictions in Coney Island, City Landmarks Shore Theater

March 8, 2010: March 23: Rescuing Coney Island’s Shore Theater from 35 Years of Neglect

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