State Senator Calls for Review of Coney Island Project
New York Times 12/29/2007
By RAY RIVERA
A state senator from Brooklyn said on Friday the city’s plan to revitalize Coney Island could not go forward without an extensive environmental review, an undertaking that could delay or even derail the project.
The city had hoped to begin the approval process in January. But Senator Carl Kruger, a Democrat who opposes the plan, cited a recent advisory opinion from the State Department of Environmental Conservation that could disrupt the city’s timeline and make it difficult to win the necessary approvals in the two years left in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s final term.
The city wants to rezone Coney Island’s aging amusement park district to attract the development of stores and apartments, while preserving historic attractions like the Parachute Jump. Its proposal calls for swapping 9.6 acres of city-owned parkland next to KeySpan Park for 10 acres in the amusement park area owned by a shopping center developer, Joseph J. Sitt. The transaction would require state legislative approval.
The advisory opinion, issued Nov. 30, does not address the Coney Island plan directly, but contends that an environmental impact review, a process that could take a year or more, is required for any change in public parkland to nonpark use, and must be completed before state approval is sought.
The opinion adds another stumbling block to a project that already appears to be at a standstill, since Mr. Sitt has balked at the land swap. It is likely to present Robert C. Lieber, the mayor’s new deputy mayor of economic development, with one of his first big challenges as he takes office on Jan. 8. He has already been deeply involved in the Coney Island proposal in his current position as head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation.
Mr. Sitt’s reluctance to trade his land could be particularly problematic for Mr. Lieber because the city has said it will not exercise its power to acquire the Coney Island land by eminent domain.
City development officials said on Friday that they would abide by all the necessary environmental requirements, though some privately expressed skepticism about whether the environmental review was needed before the approval process had even begun.
Christian DiPalermo, executive director of the nonprofit group New Yorkers for Parks, asked for the advisory opinion to ensure that the public had more chance to comment before parkland is lost. Mr. DiPalermo said his group was not opposed to the Coney Island plan as long as the proper environmental procedures were followed.