Local stakeholders testify during landmarking hearing for Coney Boardwalk

April 17, 2018 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Brooklynites testified on Tuesday, April 17 in hopes of convincing the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to designate the Coney Island Riegelmann Boardwalk – first opened in 1923 – a scenic landmark.

During the hearing – held at commission’s headquarters, 1 Centre Street in Manhattan, at 9:30 a.m. – LPC heard heartfelt and well-prepared testimony on the proposed designation.

The hearing itself came on the heels of pressure from local stakeholders, elected officials and residents alike.

“I am emphatically in favor of this proposed landmark. The Riegelmann Boardwalk is vital to the communities I represent, serving as the neighborhood’s connective tissue, unifying attractions, businesses and residents,” said Councilmember Mark Treyger at the hearing. “Beyond that, landmarking the Boardwalk will help preserve an iconic structure that has historically embodied the American democratic spirit.

Treyger, along with Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, led the charge in early 2016 to secure the City Council’s support for landmarking the site.

“Hobbled by fires and changing demographics, Coney Island became a target for ambitious developers and urban planners with autocratic and exclusionary visions for what New York should be, in the years following World War II,” the pol’s testimony read on. “Many of its most spectacular features have been lost to time, to remain only in nostalgia. The Riegelmann Boardwalk, however, remains as a physical reminder of Coney Island’s enduring, playful, democratic spirit, and as an active social and recreation hub for the Coney-Brighton community.”

Landmark designation would officially recognize the nearly-century old stretch of wood as one of Southern Brooklyn’s historic locations, while also providing a layer of protection and an opportunity for local residents to weigh in on the future of the Boardwalk. Stakeholders are hoping such a designation would also prevent more of its traditional wooden planks from being replaced with concrete and plastic.

However, its protection isn’t totally guaranteed.

Although scenic landmark status would protect its physical presence along the coastline and its general parameters including the configuration of the Boardwalk, for scenic landmarks, LPC review of alterations would be advisory only, with the Public Design Commission having binding jurisdiction, or final say, over the Boardwalk.

But, that’s not to say the agency won’t work hard to protect it, a spokesperson for LPC told this paper when Tuesday’s hearing was first calendared.

Testimony was also submitted by the Historic Districts Council (HDC), which has long advocated for the landmarking of the Boardwalk, asking just what all this would mean for the Boardwalk (an “obvious landmark,” according to the group), should it be granted scenic landmark status.

“The Historic Districts Council strongly supports its designation as a New York City Scenic Landmark since by any measure, an accounting of New York City’s landmarks which does not include the Boardwalk would be irreducibly incomplete. We question, however, any other purpose which this designation might serve,” HDC said. “As HDC understands it, current administrative interpretations of the Landmarks Commission’s policing power abrogates almost all authority the agency might exercise over this property. All future changes to the actual Boardwalk, in style, material or even form will be reviewed in an advisory capacity without public testimony to help guide the commissioners’ advice.

“The public will have the opportunity to weigh in about new buildings that fall within the bounds of the Scenic Landmark,” HDC went on, “but that was the case previously when the Art Commission had sole design review over the property. Issues of the historic context of this public property – the very boards of the Boardwalk – still fall under the binding authority of the Art Commission and are ultimately controlled by the Parks Department, the very agency which replaced them with concrete in the first place. This is not even a case of closing the barn door after the horse has fled. Rather, this is an instance of putting up a sign identifying the empty building as a barn in the first place and calling it a job well done.”

“Yes, we agree – the Coney Island Boardwalk is a landmark,” HDC concluded. “Now please, treat it like one.”

The commission is slated to vote on the fate of the Boardwalk on Tuesday, May 15.

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