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Locals: Landmarking of Coney Boardwalk falls short

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It would be a nice idea — if it actually protected the wood.

The city landmarked Coney Island’s Riegelmann Boardwalk this week, but the designation won’t mean much since it doesn’t protect the walkway’s original wooden structure, complain local conservationists. One local said the May 15 designation — exactly 95 years since the day the Boarwalk opened — should have come with a promise from the city to maintain the boardwalk’s wooden structure and stop using repairs as an excuse to replace the planks with other materials.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it would’ve been much nicer if it came with a commitment to keep it as a wooden boardwalk — Landmarks should’ve required the Parks Department to keep that promise,” said Ida Sanoff. “It’s not the Coney Island sidewalk — it’s the historic, iconic, Coney Island Riegelmann Boardwalk.”

Officials at the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously voted to designate the Boardwalk with scenic landmark status, which protects its existence as a landscape and the general parameters of its physical presence, according to a spokeswoman, but does not protect the material of the Boardwalk from being ripped up and replaced with the concrete and recycled plastic slats — which has been standard practice since 2009 by the Parks Department, which has jurisdiction over the boardwalk.

The landmarks agency will now join the city Public Design Commission in reviewing Parks’ plans for maintenance and material work, but the landmarks agency will only act in an advisory, non-binding capacity, while the Public Design Commission will continue to have the final say, according to the landmarks’ spokeswoman.

One local said he will launch a civic conservancy group to lobby city agencies to preserve the wood because the designation is nothing but a hollow gesture that will do little to actually protect the nature of the Boardwalk.

“As we’ve seen what landmarking means and doesn’t mean, it did spur us to think of other ways to think of how we may have some affect on what happens out here,” said Rob Burstein, the president of the Coney-Brighton Boardwalk Alliance.

Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) — who led the years-long push to get the Boardwalk landmarked — seized the day to cheer the designation and the accompanying guarantee that some version of the Boardwalk would line the shore forever, calling the “beloved structure” both an “integral piece of Southern Brooklyn’s rich culture, history and tradition” as well as a gathering place for the community.

“The Boardwalk is where our children, seniors, and families gather to enjoy each other’s company, where local residents leisurely stroll to relax, enjoying its breathtaking views, while others jog to stay fit,” he said. “Landmark status ensures that, no matter what, there will always be a Coney Island Boardwalk.”

But locals demanded that Treyger continue fight for the future of the Boardwalk by lobbying the city to keep it wooden.

“The city and the Parks Department can expect the community to continue to defend the essential nature of the boardwalk, and I think the engagement of elected officials is going to be critical,” said Andrew Sillen.

Treyger did not respond to an inquiry by press time.

Sanoff, Sillen, and other locals blasted the top brass at the landmarks agency at a February meeting in Coney Island and at the public hearing last month, alleging that they were simply protecting stingy officials at the Parks Department who prefer $126-per-square-foot concrete to $144-per-square-foot wood. Landmarks reps replied with a promise that the alternate materials would still recall the appearance of wood.

But Sanoff said that wasn’t good enough, complaining that concrete wouldn’t mitigate the impact of a flood or storm like Hurricane Sandy, adding that the commission should hire a coastal erosion engineer to consult.

“The design commission needs to realize that there are very unique conditions at play along the shoreline: there’s erosion, shifting sand, storm surge,” she said. “It would be nice if they had a [coastal erosion engineer] on board as a consultant, at the very least.”

But a rep from the Parks Department insisted that concrete is the better choice to protect against future storms.

“The decision to use concrete is not only about being conscious of sustainability, but also adheres to our priority of creating a more resilient structure that can stand up to extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, as well as pedestrian use,” said Meghan Lalor.

Sanoff said locals simply want to protect historical essence of the Boardwalk, and that the traditional hardwood planks are a necessary part of that.

“This thing is a Boardwalk, and it wouldn’t be the same if it was made out of concrete,” she said. “There’s an actual feeling of walking on the wood versus walking on something that looks like wood.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Posted 12:00 am, May 17, 2018
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Reader feedback

Dave T from Coney says:
Bravo for the brave souls in govt who can ignore the rhetoric and realize that the sooner that monstrosity of a boardwalk is changed to concrete, the better off we will be. I am tired of picking myself and other people off the wood after a fall has left us with bloody arms and knees. There are so many nails and boards up that it can never be fixed. As soon as parts are fixed, other parts are broken. It is an absolute health hazard to people who take long walks there - you are almost guaranteed to stumble. Concrete is safer and cheaper. Period. Use the money saved to deal with the increasing homeless situation. Cement it all, and minimal maintenance for 40 years. Ignore the "activists" (they should be
"de-activisted"), and do the cost-effective, environmentally sound, and safer thing. Come to think of it, the only argument I hear for the boardwalk is "it's always been that way, it's a tradition", usually from older people who don't want a single pebble moved, we know how they hate change... As a final argument, go to bay 1. You see as many people walking on the concrete part than the wood part, even though the wood is new! They are voting with their feet, not their mouths.
May 17, 8:36 am
John G from Brighton Beach says:
There is no new wood at Bay 1, only concrete and plastic.
Proper maintenance, as is done at every other wood Boardwalk along the eastern seaboard, would make the Boardwalk safe and keep it beautiful and a pleasant surface for runners and walkers. A responsible and responsive Parks Department would be able to do that! By the way, I'm not an older person but I want a real Boardwalk, not a sidewalk.
May 17, 1:29 pm
Bill Robinson from Bay Ridge says:
I also am tired of falling from broken boards and nails sticking up. I am a runner, 34 years old, and I come to the Boardwalk, as do many others, for its forgiving surface and its beauty. I don't want concrete or plastic.
What destroys the Boardwalk is the Parks Department running multi-ton trucks on it at high speeds instead of driving on the sand. On top of that they do almost no maintenance. If this were not the case, the Boardwalk would last a long time before sections needed repair.
Thanks to all those, young and old, who are fighting to make the Parks Department more responsible, and for preserving a real Boardwalk!
May 17, 3:33 pm
Melvin Band from Sheepshead Bay says:
check out the boardwalk in Atlantic City where there is proper maintenance. By the way, do you know who picks the members of the Landmarks preservation Commission? it's the mayor. Let him know how you feel when he runs for a third term after he gets the City Council to wave the two term limit just as Bloomberg did.
May 17, 6:24 pm
jw says:
I wonder why Dave doesn't say a word about changing the wooden walkways on the Brooklyn Bridge to concrete. Because if he did, the millennial brownstone crowd would come after him with torches and pitchforks.
May 18, 10:13 am
Dmitri S from Coney Island says:
I am a runner, and I despise the concrete sections of the boardwalk. Yes, I've tripped and fell over some wood planks on several occasions, but that's a maintenance issue.
May 19, 11:39 am

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