Wednesday, March 07, 2007

City Planner Amanda Burden Stands In Sitt's Way

Thor Equities' Joe Sitt spoke with Matthew Schuerman at the New York Observer last week. "We’re stuck in the bureaucracy," exclaims Sitt. He wants Planning Director Amanda Burden to get out of his way.

At a Crain's New York Business breakfast last month Burden said that condos should not be 'adjacent' to amusements regarding the plans Thor Equities has for Coney Island. The city has recently been more poised than ever to stand firm for keeping the amusements in Coney. However, the city has made reservations for some residential to be part of the project.

Sitt told the New York Observer, “It’s just crazy that somebody from government would want us to mothball this entire thing for five or 10 years, to leave it to another administration to make it happen.”

The NY Observer reported:

In some ways, Mr. Sitt jumped into the game too late to replicate the way another Brooklyn developer, Bruce Ratner, convinced the city and state to support a sports arena right next to a massive apartment village. Mr. Ratner saw a desolate rail yard in central Brooklyn and used it as a wedge to create an eight-million-square foot development. Mr. Sitt began buying property only four years ago, after the city constructed a minor-league baseball stadium and had already made its mind up to forge a community-led master plan for the neighborhood.

On the other hand, Mr. Sitt—unlike Mr. Ratner—never needs to use eminent domain. He has spent $150 million buying out dozens of land owners, according to reports, prying heirlooms from the families which created Nathan’s Hot Dogs and brought the Ferris wheel to New York City with the promise that he would put them to worthy use. After flipping land west of Keyspan Park to a residential developer for $90 million, Mr. Sitt is left with the four-block area next to the Cyclone roller coaster, the so-called amusement core.

Mr. Sitt contends that 975 residential units—an unspecified mix of time-shares and condos—would provide the eyes and ears (and pocketbooks) that would make the complex work year round, to say nothing of compensating for the losses he expects from running the amusement area. On a total square-foot basis, according to figures from Thor Equities, Mr. Sitt’s development firm, the apartments would constitute 34 percent of the square footage of the complex, while amusements would constitute only 14 percent. (Hotels, retail and parking would make up the rest.) The actual land area covered by the footprints of the residential towers would be much smaller, however—in part because one of the towers would rise 50 stories.

Seems the units have jumped another 275 more than last reported by Thor. And they are open about the obvious diminished amusement area which now would consist of only 14 percent.

In the report, Dick Zigun who for the most part supports Thor, said, “Thor is not necessarily the enemy. A lot of what they are proposing is exactly what we want.”...“We want affluent people from around the world to come and spend a week here and spend a lot of money. But people who come here for a week want the noise and excitement; people raising families complain. People renting apartments across the street complain on a regular basis as it is.”

He added, “If Thor presented a plan that was 85 percent amusements and 15 percent condos, I would not vote for it—but it would not surprise me if it went through.”

The debate which until recently has been dubious, now stands between what specific area Thor is intending to use as residential.

Laid out in September 2005 the CIDC approved a "Strategic Plan" which permitted residential construction north and west of Keyspan. But Thor is continually focusing on the area that is reserved for "active and historic amusements" Though the city still stresses that the two types of zoning next to each other: amusements and residential would not be appropriate, they are leaving open the question of how they would co-exist. Which leaves the debate still wide open and not much further ahead. At least until the Department of City Planning issues zoning recommendations by this summer. And the CIDC begins the land-use process by the end of the year. The process itself takes almost a year.

Though, Joe Sitt said he was led to believe that the city would approve residential uses after a statement by Bloomberg calling for "a diverse use of a piece of land if it’s really going to succeed.” The city said they will be carefull to make sure that all the constituencies are on board.

In the article Joe Sitt demonstrates that he will not be intimidated by the city. Thor will go to the extent of blighting Coney Island by flattening everything it owns. This is the weapon they will use to make the city relent and give in to their demands. It's now a matter of seeing how strong and tough Ms. Burden will be in standing up against Thor's hammer.

Sitt Buckles Into Coney Rollercoaster [NY Sun]

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