Business inside the Broadway Triangle
by Daniel Bush
Mar 09, 2010 | 3194 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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If the contested Broadway Triangle rezoning moves forward, several small businesses inside the site will be forced to relocate. The candidates for relocation know that, and have known it for years.

What they don't know, but would like to find out, is when that might happen, if indeed it does, and what plans the city might have to help them move. Or how much the city plans to pay for their properties - or if, barring an agreement, their sites will be seized through eminent domain.

Several questions remain for the five Broadway Triangle-area businesses the city would ask to relocate if a court upholds the rezoning approved by the City Council last year. The rezoning, passed to redevelop a 30-acre swath of North Brooklyn with some 1,900 new apartments, has been temporarily blocked by opponents suing the city over the project.

While the process plays out in court (it could be settled this week or take several years), business owners like Sarah Geld are operating in a kind of limbo. Geld is a senior partner at Excellent Bus Company, which has run a charter bus service out of an office and parking lot on Bartlett Street since 1989.

“It's disappointing not knowing what will happen,” said Geld. She said she did receive a letter from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) last year, informing her that her property could be acquired for redevelopment. Since then, however, correspondence has ceased. “Since the rezoning they have no answers,” she said.

A spokesperson for HPD said the city's plans for the area are on hold until the project is decided in court. In an email he wrote, “If the rezoning is allowed forward we will resume consultation with the property owners to best assess their individual needs and the appropriate assistance available following the public review process and approval of the acquisition of properties.”

The spokesman did not answer if the city has any kind of a relocation plan in place yet, or even preliminary designs for one, and would not confirm a list of the five sought-after properties.

The city's environmental impact statement identified 19 businesses inside the site, but only five fall within the Urban Renewal Area and could therefore be required to relocate. Besides Excellent Bus Company, they appear to include Knights Collision and Auto Care Center, Service Smoked Fish, a sewing machine supplier, and Shanghai Stainless, a metal fabrication business.

Ernie Wong, who runs Shanghai Stainless - the company specializes in making food vendor carts - said he was planning to expand the business before the rezoning was signed into law. Instead, he now faces the prospect of selling his property, something he never planned to do.

“I'm pretty upset,” said Wong, whose family opened the Gerry Street business in the late 1980's. It is now a coveted piece of land on the site, surrounded by city-owned lots and essential to any rezoning and redevelopment project. “I just started a family,” he added. “I have no thoughts of just giving up.”

Leah Archibald, the executive director of the East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation (EWVIDCO), is working with Wong and other businesses who could be affected by the rezoning. She said playing the waiting game can hurt. “Lack of real estate predictability is destabilizing to industrial businesses.”

Assuming the rezoning is upheld, finding a new place in Williamsburg to do business could be a challenge for several reasons. Unless a relocation fund materializes, displaced small businesses might have less capital to work with if their properties are appraised as commercial sites before the residential rezoning can take full effect and drive up their property values.

Also, though some industrial space still exists, Archibald said, it isn't as plentiful as it was before the housing boom ushered in a period of unprecedented growth. “Because of recent rezonings and other activities there is less industrial space available in North Brooklyn than there once was,” she said.

With the still-steady rate of current development, by the time the rezoning issue is settled and the city gets around to acquiring the properties, there could be even less space to choose from.

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