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Will Landmarking Preserve Coney Island’s Boardwalk In Wood?

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Riegelmann Boardwalk (Hugo Smith/BKLYNER)

CONEY ISLAND – Last week, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission moved forward with the next step to recognize the Riegelmann Boardwalk (Coney Island Boardwalk) as a scenic landmark.

Landmarking status would ensure the boardwalk is rebuilt in the event of another environmental crisis such as Superstorm Sandy. But the appointment does not guarantee the materials that will be used in the process, much to the chagrin of locals who have been vying to keep the authentic appearance of the structure.

“The designation can only hold meaning if it comes with the inherent protection of the boardwalk as what it has always been and what it should be conserved as – a unique pedestrian entity comprised of wooden boards,” said Rob Burstein who testified at the meeting.

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The restored pier used composite planks.

But the city maintains that the composite lumber held up better during Superstorm Sandy and had a longer life expectancy than hardwoods.

The speaker followed another preservationist, Andrew Sillen, who testified that the city’s claim that 44,000 acres of forest would be impacted in order to rehabilitate the boardwalk is “rubbish.” Sillen suggested using Brazil as a source for the wood.

However, Brazil is undergoing its own environmental issues as the country’s Superior Court reversed major environmental laws. In 2005, Brazil had the highest rate of deforestation in the world.

The years-long journey to protect the integrity of the Coney Island Boardwalk came as early as 2009 when the city first replaced pieces of the boardwalk with concrete and composite planks. Preservationists have been objecting to any attempts to disrupt the near century-old boardwalk that spans 2.5 miles.

The stretch of Riegelmann Boardwalk where concrete was substituted for wood.

Councilmemeber Mark Treyger also testified at the meeting.  Treyger has led the charge to landmark the structure since his freshman year as a councilmember. Under his direction, the City Council voted unanimously to support a resolution that would protect any physical alteration threatening the historical character of the boardwalk.

“I am emphatically in favor of this proposed landmark,” said Council Member Mark Treyger, as he began testifying for landmarking of the boardwalk in Coney Island at a public hearing on Tuesday.

“The Riegelmann Boardwalk is vital to the communities I represent, serving as the neighborhood’s connective tissue, unifying attractions businesses and residents.” 

Treyger and an aide of neighboring Councilmember Chaim Deutsch suggested importing tropical wood to replace the boardwalk’s near-century-old wooden planks. However, the practice of uprooting massive quantities of trees continuous to threaten the environmental conditions of respective South American countries — often leading to deforestation.

Deutsch, whose council district abuts Coney Island, was also hopeful.

“This week’s Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing was an important step forward towards obtaining landmark status of the Reigelmann Boardwalk,” said Deutsch.”This is our opportunity to ensure that the value and significance of our boardwalk is not lost over time.”

A favorable vote on May 15 will then bring a vote to the City Council who will ultimately decide whether to push forward with naming the boardwalk a scenic landmark. The LPC acknowledged they only have binding authority of buildings located on the landmark and will act in an advisory capacity only to the Public Design Committee.

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