Posted Friday, November 17, 2000 8:55 AM | Contributed by Jeff
According to Justin Garvanovic, of ECC's First Drop, the Coney Island Thunderbolt has been demolished. The Thunderbolt was a 1925 John Miller coaster that has been standing but not operating for a number of years.
City Faces Suit Over Demolition
Of Coney Island Roller Coaster
New York Lawyer
July 11, 2003
By Tom Perrotta
New York Law Journal
A lawsuit that alleges former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani orchestrated the demolition of a Coney Island roller coaster because of a vendetta and a desire to please the New York Mets can proceed but on limited claims, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Southern District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan dismissed all claims against Mr. Giuliani personally, but said the plaintiffs had withstood a motion for summary judgment on other claims against the city and its officials.
The suit, filed by the owners of the Thunderbolt roller coaster, alleges the city tore down the thrill ride without giving the owners any notice and in violation of procedural due process, since it failed to follow the Unsafe Building Procedure in the Administrative Code.
The city contends it can demolish a building without obtaining permission from state Supreme Court, even though the UBP does not specifically allow it to do so. The city also contends it sent several notices to the owners, but that the addresses on their letters were incorrect.
The roller coaster had been out of use since 1983 when it was demolished in 2000, during the construction of KeySpan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a New York Mets farm team. The Thunderbolt was built in 1926 and had wooden tracks with a steel structure. It was featured in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall."
On the day the Thunderbolt was torn down, mounted police officers were sent to the home of the roller coaster's caretaker, Andrew Badalamenti. Mr. Badalamenti, a former horse caretaker for the city Police Department, knew the officers, who told him the roller coaster was being taken down.
When Mr. Badalamenti told the officers he wanted to call his boss, Horace Bullard, they asked him to go to a diner in Sheepshead Bay for breakfast. From there, Mr. Badalamenti called Mr. Bullard, who ordered him to "get down there" and identify the people demolishing the Thunderbolt.
The officers told Mr. Badalamenti that he would get in trouble if he went to the roller coaster, and took him to the nearby police barn. Mr. Badalamenti testified that no force was used and he felt free to go at any time.
The Thunderbolt's owner, Wantanabe Realty Corp., and its principal executive, Mr. Bullard, allege that Mr. Giuliani ordered the demolition because the owner of the Mets, Fred Wilpon, thought the roller coaster would be an eyesore for Cyclone fans.
Mr. Bullard also contends that the former mayor wanted to retaliate against him for a suit he had filed against the city when unrelated efforts to develop part of Coney Island fell through, and because the mayor had racial animus toward Mr. Bullard, who is half black and half Puerto Rican.
Judge Kaplan said the plaintiffs' evidence of racial animus by the former mayor was "utterly lacking."
"No doubt recognizing their complete failure of proof, plaintiffs ask the Court 'to take judicial notice of Mayor Giuliani's stormy relationship with minority, particularly African American . . . communities' as a basis for inferring racial animus," the judge wrote in Wantanabe Realty Corp. v. City of New York, 01 Civ. 10137.
The judge also dismissed all procedural due process and equal protection claims. In addressing the due process claim that alleged the city failed to follow the UBP, the judge said the city tried to offer notice, and he noted that 77 days passed from when the city made an emergency declaration concerning the roller coaster to when it was demolished.
"As there is no evidence that the inaccuracies in the notices were deliberate, there is no basis for concluding that any effort was made to demolish the structure without giving advance notice to the owner," Judge Kaplan wrote.
But Judge Kaplan said federal and state substantive due process claims could proceed, citing the inspection the city conducted before it demolished the roller coaster and the way it reached its conclusion.
Schoefield Padmore, the building inspector who assessed the roller coaster in August 2000, viewed it only through binoculars and took photographs with a zoom lens.
His photos have never been produced, and the plaintiffs say his findings in a special report — that the Thunderbolt was deteriorating and should be demolished — are not credible. The plaintiffs also point to an Environmental Control Board notice filled out by Mr. Padmore, in which he cited a choice in remedies: make the Thunderbolt safe or demolish it.
Judge Kaplan cited testimony from Tarek Zeid, Brooklyn borough commissioner for the Department of Buildings, that Mr. Padmore was not qualified to judge the structural integrity of the roller coaster's steel frame.
"In all of the circumstances, the Court cannot exclude the possibility that the issuance of the Emergency Declaration was not merely wrong or ill-advised, but outrageously arbitrary," the judge wrote.
He added: "A reasonable trier of fact, at least on the present record, could find that [Mr.] Zeid had no responsible basis for determining that there was sufficient reason to demolish the roller coaster and that he knew it."
The judge said the same could be said for Darral Hilton, the chief administrative inspector for the Department of Buildings in Brooklyn, who consulted with Mr. Zeid on the final determination to demolish the Thunderbolt.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Gabriel Taussig, who represents the city, said he believed the city would ultimately prevail in the litigation.
"We believe that a jury will agree with us that there were no violations," Mr. Taussig said.
Barry S. Gedan, who represents Wantanabe Realty Corp., said: "We are gratified that the decision holds that the city failed to establish a basis for the demolition of a historic and irreplaceable roller coaster, but respectfully believe that the decision was incorrect in other respects."
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