Pratt Center

March 30, 2009

Coney Island Rezoning

Testimony to Brooklyn Borough President on Coney Island Rezoning
March 30, 2009

I’m Vicki Weiner, Director of Planning & Preservation at the Pratt Center for Community Development. Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony today.  The Pratt Center is a university-based non-profit organization that works for a more just, equitable, and sustainable city for all New Yorkers by helping communities to plan for and realize their future.  For decades, Coney Island has been a haven for working class New Yorkers. A century ago, it was the first place that working people could reach, and afford, for a break from their daily grind in sweatshops. It has remained for decades a place that people of every walk of life can get to by subway, and yet feel they have gone to another world. As the City of New York proposes to redevelop Coney Island, it must ensure that Coney remains a place that creates opportunity for working New Yorkers. 

The Pratt Center for Community Development is therefore working in coalition with a broad range of stakeholders who have come together to ensure that any redevelopment plan for Coney Island guarantees the following:

  • GOOD JOBS   The redevelopment plan must guarantee good jobs – with responsible contractors and employers, and with a commitment that local residents can get these jobs – in every part of the project.
  • AFFORDABLE HOUSING   A majority of the housing created or preserved must be affordable to low, moderate, and middle income New Yorkers – with at least half of the affordable units reserved for families at or below the median income for households in Coney Island.
  • A STRONGER AMUSEMENTS area   The plan must preserve and strengthen the “people’s playground” through an open, affordable, and vibrant amusement area, with spaces for vendors and small businesses, and investment in historic resources.
  • COMMUNITY NEEDS ARE MET   This is a critical opportunity to create much-needed public amenities for local residents of the area, including a school and a supermarket to meet local demand, and significantly improved public transportation and infrastructure.

Other groups and local residents from our coalition will testify in more detail about several of these points, but I will expand on just one of them now:
I. Creating Opportunities for Vendors and Other Small Businesses in Coney Island East
One of the things that give Coney Island its beloved and unique character is the diversity of vendors, small businesses, and outdoor pavilions. The current plan threatens to change that character drastically, and we believe the plan should be altered to better preserve and promote small, independent retail businesses. Specifically we are calling for the following four modifications to the plan:

  1. Remove Movie Theaters and Bowling Alleys from the list of allowed uses within Coney East. Neither of these activities is truly an amusement, and both typically require large ground floor lobbies that would detract from the amusement park ambiance of the streetscape.
  1. Mandate that a larger percentage of the ground floor spaces within Coney East must be occupied by active amusements or genuinely amusement-appropriate retail uses.
  1. Mandate that a mix of small retail spaces ranging from 300 to 1,500 sf must be achieved by each new development within Coney East. We believe the currently proposed 2,500 sf size cap is really too large to preserve and promote the kinds of small amusement-related businesses that have enlivened Coney and enabled individuals to sustain thriving small businesses.  
  1. Adopt a Formula Business Restriction policy within Coney East to prevent national retailers and fast food restaurants from locating there. Municipalities all over the nation have adopted zoning laws that restrict or prohibit chain stores and fast food restaurants, and in all but a handful of cases they have survived legal challenges. 

We therefore believe that the plan for Coney East needs to be revised to better preserve and promote local, independent businesses and active amusement uses. We’ve conducted a good bit of national research on the land use and zoning tools that have helped other municipalities ensure thriving small business climate, and would be happy to send you more detailed information about these provisions, or meet with you and your staff to discuss them in greater detail.
In Conclusion
We feel strongly that the goals set by the coalition can be met. The City has the power to require that developers and employers achieve high standards – when it issues requests for proposals to developers, through zoning, when it acquires land, and when it provides subsidies or tax incentives. We strongly urge the Brooklyn Borough President to do all within his power to see to it that these important goals—good jobs, affordable housing, a stronger amusements area, and meeting the needs of the broader community— are put into the plan to recreate a Coney Island that continues to provide opportunity to visitors and residents alike. Thank you.