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Coney Island Rezoning & Development

Coney Island Rezoning & Development

Investments in Coney Island, like the construction of the Brooklyn Cyclones’ KeySpan Park, restoration of the Stillwell Avenue Terminal, and the development of substantial amounts of infill housing within the community, have laid the groundwork for further development in Coney Island. In 2003, the City established the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) to plan and implement economic and development strategies including developing vacant property for commercial and residential use, such as housing, retail stores, and a community center. The strategic plan for Coney Island was announced by Mayor Bloomberg in September 2005, committing an initial $83.2 million in funds.

In 2006, developer Joe Sitt, and his company Thor Equities, purchased 11 acres of boardwalk land with the intention of building a $1.5 billion entertainment zone to attract visitors and residents to the area. Thor's initial plans included a mix of amusements, attractions, and housing. The project called for a water-park-themed hotel, another full-service hotel, time-share facilities, new retail, a multilevel carousel, and a 4,000-foot roller coaster. When the plans were announced, Thor had hoped to break ground by mid-2008 and complete the project over the next five years.

Under Thor’s revitalization plans, some long-time vendors would have been forced to leave. This caused concern about what would happen to the unique Coney Island experience. Opponents claimed that Thor Equities was less interested in amusement development, and instead was waiting for the City to make a zoning change that would allow residential development. In February 2007, Amanda Burden, chair of the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Commissioner of the City Planning Commission (CPC), announced that the area would be inappropriate for luxury housing, a component of Thor Equities’ plan that the company described as necessary to finance the amusement area. In response to Commissioner Burden’s comments, Thor Equities changed its original plan from spreading the housing out among four boardwalk locations within the proposed 425,000-square-foot amusement complex to confining 900 units in a single 40-story tower on Stillwell Avenue’s west side near Surf Avenue.

In November 2007, DCP released the comprehensive plan and proposed rezoning for Coney Island. It was passed in 2009. The City’s plan is in accordance with the Mayor’s Strategic Plan announced in 2005 and hopes to make Coney Island a year-round entertainment destination with major commercial and housing revitalization. The proposed rezoning covered a 19-block area with the amusement area as a focal point. The existing amusement area will be renovated, rebuilt, and expanded, keeping important city landmarks, such as the Cyclone, intact while also inviting private development of new and improved indoor and outdoor amusements and concessions. Under the City’s plan, this area will be designated as parkland in order to keep the amusement district on Coney Island in perpetuity. Over 4000 units of housing are expected, and through the use of the Inclusionary Zoning program, 900 units are expected to be affordable. The new zoning will also allow for a wider variety of uses to create a more integrated mixed-use community. The creation of hotels and restaurants, neighborhood retail, connections from Surf Avenue to the beach, as well as a continuous beachfront boardwalk and park are just a few of the expected improvements. By creating three special districts the City hopes to control the uses, height and density of the development in order to maintain the current view corridors, iconic skyline features, and contextual buildings for the area. While Thor Equities was somewhat disappointed with the City’s vision, the developer pledged to work with the appropriate agencies and community members in this long process.

The City had been considering buying out Thor Equities and developing Coney Island itself, but in March 2008 went back on these plans and instead decided to try to work with the developer. The next month, the Bloomberg administration revised its redevelopment plan, however, the City and Sitt continued to clash over retail zoning, and preservationists were dissatisfied that the planned amusement area was decreased from 15 acres to nine acres. Throughout 2008, tensions grew between Coney Island residents, city government, and Thor Equities. In November of 2008, Thor entered into negotiations to sell the City 10.5 acres of Coney Island property.

In 2009, Sitt bought another three acres that the City wanted to purchase. Sitt spokesman Stefan Friedman said that the developer bought the extra land for an entertainment-amusement complex to be set up on the boardwalk as a back-up plan should the deal with the City fail to move forward. Some believed that the extra land would increase Sitt’s leverage in the negotiations.

The July 2009 rezoning impacted a 19 block area and creates a special Coney Island district. The plan includes a 27-acre amusement district that will increase the types of rides and attractions a developer can bring to the area. Outside the amusement district, the plan will encourage retail and residential development including 4,5000 new apartments, of which 840 will be set aside for low and moderate-income tenants.

In November 2009, the Bloomberg administration purchased seven acres of prime space from Sitt for $95.6 million. This allows the City to move forward with its redevelopment plan. Sitt still holds 5.6 acres of land, on which he plans to develop hotels and stores. In May 2010, the new Luna Park reopened, featuring 19 rides and jobs for local residents.

Last Updated: June 4, 2010