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Thor hammers away at parkland plan

A catering hall in the sky, letting owners keep their property, incorporating indoor amusements and adding more parking. These were some of the testimonial offerings given at last week’s draft scope public meeting held at Lincoln High School regarding the city’s plan to rezone Coney Island. The rezoning area in total will include 47 acres and 19 blocks and is generally bounded to the east by West 8th Street, to the west by West 24th Street, to the north by Mermaid Avenue and to the south by the Riegelman Boardwalk. The city also wants to turn about 35 contiguous acres of Coney Island into city parkland, including about 9.6 acres of existing mapped parkland, 16.4 acres of proposed parkland and 15 acres of proposed parkland in the existing area already zoned C7 for outdoor amusements. “For Coney Island to succeed, it must be able to operate 12 months out of the year and not just 90 days,” said Jesse Masyr, attorney for Thor Equities, which currently owns about 11 acres in the area zoned for outdoor amusements. Masyr, noting the winter cold snap outside, said some kind of enclosed amusements are needed to keep Coney Island a year-round destination place. “It is our opinion that the current city proposal will result in less economic development, fewer jobs, less tax revenues and a more precarious future for all the businesses and residents of Coney Island,” he added. Masyr, along with Dennis Vourderis, whose family owns Deno’s Wonder Wheel, and Nino Russo, whose family owns Gargiulo’s Restaurant on West 15th Street, also voiced displeasure with the city’s plan to take part or all of their properties and turn it into parkland. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but Thor didn’t buy their property and acquire this land without wanting to be involved in the redevelopment of Coney Island,” said Masyr. “This isn’t rocket science and I suspect this is what you’re hearing from the others also,” he added. Masyr said he agreed with the process the city is now undergoing in regard to the rezoning, but he said that the draft scope needs to be expanded to include potential alternatives. Vourderis also praised the city for taking the initiative of rezoning the area, but questioned why the city wants to take their Wonder Wheel Amusement area and turn it into city parkland. “We have been preserving it [Coney Island amusement area] since 1983, when my family bought the Wheel from the Garms family. We have been working at preserving and improving Coney Island since 1966, when my dad sold his first hot dog at the Anchor Bar on West 10th Street,” said Vourderis. “Forty-two years later, when the future of Coney Island looks its brightest, and the moment we have been waiting for finally comes, the only way it can happen is if our land, which our forefathers worked so hard for, is designated parkland?” he added rhetorically. Vourderis also noted that, according to the city’s rezoning plan, some property owners directly across from the Wonder Wheel on the Bowery get to develop and improve their property while maintaining their private ownership. Vourderis said the family has had discussions with the city, but nothing substantial was talked about in terms of money or the possibility of keeping or staying on the property. “We have an open mind, that’s all. They haven’t made an offer and we haven’t accepted an offer,” said Vourderis. Russo family attorney Kathleen Cudahy explained the Russo family wants to build two 250-foot mixed commercial/residential mixed-use towers on their current restaurant/catering site, and their parking lot across the street with a bridge over the street connecting the two buildings. Cudahy said the new restaurant will look out over Coney Island. This way the restaurant/catering hall, which serves about 10,000 people a week, can continue to thrive, Cudahy said. Cudahy said the city, however, wants to annex a piece of the parking lot and create a buffer zone, perhaps for parking, between the taller buildings and smaller buildings. “We’re a little perplexed by it [city’s plan] and have never seen anything like this before. We’re interested in what they really want to do. Is it [the property] intended for cars or perhaps something else we’re not aware of?” she said. Cudahy said the city hasn’t offered to buy the property or threatened to condemn it. “They just said we can’t build on it and they want people to park on it,” she said. Several other people at the meeting also testified there was a greater need for parking in the city’s rezoning plan. Lynn Kelly, president of the Coney Island Development Corporation, said she felt the scoping meeting went very well and is pleased that the official public review process has begun. “As we move through the process, we are open to exploring all ideas that will help us achieve our goal of transforming Coney Island a world-class destination that retains the historic funkiness and excitement of Coney Island in its hey-day,” said Kelly.

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