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Triangle businesses fight eminent domain

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Three Williamsburg businesses located within the Broadway Triangle are the focus of an intense battle to rezone a 31-acre site south of Broadway Avenue to residential use, as city officials determine whether to acquire the privately-owned sites through eminent domain.

At a City Planning Commission hearing on September 9, Shanghai Stainless (78-82 Gerry Street) owner Ernie Wong and Excellent Bus Service (55 Bartlett Street) owner Sarah Gelb gave testimony regarding the possibility that they would be relocated.

A third business, Service Smoked Fish (54 Throop Avenue), did not send a representative to testify, although Department of Housing and Preservation officials indicated at the hearing that it was unlikely the business would be rezoned in the Broadway Triangle plan under review.

Both Wong’s and Gelb’s businesses are located adjacent to city-owned lots that are slated for residential development under the current plan.Wong testified that if he is forced to move, he would prefer to remain in North Brooklyn close to clients who visit his current location to maintain their food vendor vehicles.Gelb noted that HPD planners did not meet with her in person regarding the land use review despite arranging for a meeting.

“It looked like an afterthought for them, sending a note with no human follow-up,” said Marty Needelman, an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services who filed a lawsuit against HPD alleging discrimination. “We have other interests at stake, but it’s difficult to understand why they were so uncommunicative to the businesses there.”

Calls to HPD were not able to be returned by press time, but HPD officials claimed they did everything they could to reach out to local businesses.

Richard Bearak, Borough President Deputy Director of Planning, said that the city has an obligation to provide alternative sites and should defer acquisition plans until those sites are determined.

“There’s always this problem of balancing,” said Bearak.“The sites that Shanghai and Excellent Bus rents and own are part of the initial industrial renewal plan in 1989. The city had rights for 20 years to acquire them.It’s likely they will be acquired.”

On August 20, Borough President Marty Markowitz submitted a list of recommendations to the City Planning Commission to the Broadway Triangle rezoning action, after approving the plan.Some of those recommendations include retaining M1-2 manufacturing zoning at Service Smoked Fish’s property and securing urban renewal benefits for Shanghai Steel and Excellent Bus Service if they must be moved.

“When I was a boy, there were dozens of smoked fish businesses,” said Markowitz. “I think it’s important that [Service] not be pressured out. He wishes to invest. He recently invested capital to upgrades to his facility, and would lose all of that.I want him to expand.”

The City Council will have until 50 days after the City Planning Commission makes its recommendations to hear the Broadway Triangle rezoning matter.Until then, Wong and his neighbors will wait nervously for their decision.

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