Eyes turn to Recchia as Coney Island plan hits City Council
By Ryan Chatelain
The citys push to revitalize Coney Island is entering its final stretch, but Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. could single-handedly derail the plan, leaving the iconic amusement destination with an uncertain future.
Recchia, the Democrat who represents Coney Island, has been critical of aspects of the citys proposal, which would create a 27-acre, year-round amusement and entertainment district, as well as bring new housing and businesses to the neighborhood.
The City Council will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. today and is expected to vote on the rezoning proposal before the end of the month.
Recchia has expressed concern in the past that the citys plan is not favorable to current landowners. The councilman also has publicly described himself as longtime friends with Thor Equities president Joseph Sitt, who owns 10½ acres that the city wants to purchase but who has his own development plan that includes amusements, restaurants, hotels and retail stores.The relationship between Recchia and Sitt has some Coney Island residents and business owners worried.
Hes almost partners with Joe Sitt, it would appear, said Dianna Carlin, who owns Lola Staars Dreamland Roller Rink. I dont think Domenic Recchia has the best intentions for Coney Island at all. His intention is to help his friend and help him make money on this.
Because Recchia, who did not return phone messages seeking comment, represents Coney Island, the City Council is likely to follow his recommendation when it votes.
Pam Harris, executive director of the Coney Island Generation Gap, a youth-focused group, said she supports the citys plan is confident Recchia will do what is best for Coney Island.
Hes told me is for what the community wants, she said. It would be unfair not to give him the benefit of the doubt.
If the measure is rejected, the current zoning, which is largely limited to amusement-related uses, would remain in place. The Bloomberg Administration said it would not submit a new rezoning plan.
We have not only an opportunity but a responsibility to revitalize Coney Island, and unless we do something now, the decades-long trend of disinvestment and abandonment will continue, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.
Recchia, however, isnt alone in expressing concerns about the citys proposal. Carlin, for example, wants the plan amended to devote more acreage to outdoor amusements, move four high-rise hotels to north of Surf Avenue and introduce measures to protect small businesses. A group called Coney Island for All will hold a rally in front of City Hall today asking for the Bloomberg administration to guarantee more affordable housing and jobs paying livable wages.
The City Council could recommend that the Planning Commission alter the plan as long as the changes were studied in an environmental impact review.
This is Coney Island were talking about, Carlin said. I dont think compromises should be made. If it takes a little bit more time, I think we should take a little bit more time and make sure its done correctly.
Harris, however, said Coney Island, especially the areas outside of the amusement district, need the economic development promised in the citys plan. The neighborhood's unemployment rate is about twice the city average.
We are really looking for this to go through, she said. All these naysayers are killing us, especially since they dont come on this side of Coney Island and see the suffering here.