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Fish factory fears rezoning

Nestled amid several vacant lots off Throop Avenue, overgrown with wildflowers and weeds, Jay Wiener and his family have been operating a smoked fish factory since 1955, one of three remaining certified fish production and distribution centers in Brooklyn.

Service Smoked Fish (54 Throop Avenue) sits squarely in the middle of the Broadway Triangle, a 31−acre lot that is on track for affordable housing development by the city’s Departments of Housing and City Planning. If a rezoning action for the area is approved by City Council later this year, there is a strong possibility that Service Smoked Fish will be forced to move.

“I have not been contacted by the city about eminent domain but I am concerned about my future here,” said Jay Wiener, president of Service Smoked Fish. “Once they built the 70−unit building across the street, 311 calls came in like crazy about the garbage, smells, and noise. They don’t want us here.”

Wiener and his neighbor, Ernie Wong of Shanghai Steel, a family−owned metal fabrication company since 1991 that constructs many of the city’s mobile food vendor carts, occupy an unusual but increasingly common position for small manufacturers in New York City. As residential development encroaches upon industrial neighborhoods, small businesses must often consider relocation when property values rise and the cost of doing business continues to increase.

What is unusual here is that Weiner and Wong have owned their buildings long before the rezoning plan for the Williamsburg neighborhood began to gain traction in late 2007. Questions regarding the city’s likely use of eminent domain arose around this time, and Wong began to grow concerned.

“According to a letter from HPD, my property may be acquired for the redevelopment of the area,” said Wong, in written testimony to Community Board 1 members earlier this month. “When I learned of the proposed rezoning⁄ eminent domain plans for my property, I abandoned my plans on expanding my business...Confused and directionless, I see my imminent future homelessness.”

According to sources in City Council, Wong is facing a difficult situation. Located at 78−82 Gerry Street, his company is bookended by two lots that the Department of Housing owns and has slated for residential use. According to HPD documents, Shanghai Steel’s lot is located 100 percent within HPD’s proposed development area, and the city is proposing acquiring his and several adjacent properties through eminent domain.

Service Smoked Fish appears to be in better shape. Wiener’s lots lie within 78 percent of the proposed development area, and Council sources believe it is more likely they will continue to operate on their property.

Still, both men have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital in their businesses over the past two decades and neither particularly wants to leave. Wong has changed his business model to include larger mobile trucks such as Van Leeuwen Ice Cream and Dumplings on the Go as the food industry has remained stable. Weiner has installed expensive packing house brick floors, which are not removable, and has upgraded three German−engineered smoking ovens, each worth over $200,000.

“By the time you disassemble the ovens, it’s basically worthless,” said Service Plant Manager Frank Costanzo.

This week at a Community Board 1 ULURP meeting, Brooklyn HPD Director Jack Hammer said that his focus in terms of assistance for local businesses is with the properties proposed for acquisition.

“We’ve sent out letters to each of the affected owners and there will be additional public hearings in the future. We anticipate discussing these matters on an individual basis with property owners who come forward,” said Hammer.

On their end, Wong and Wiener have contacted Assemblymember Vito Lopez and Councilmember David Yassky’s offices regarding the rezoning, as well as EWVIDCO Executive Director Leah Archibald, who is a liaison with North Brooklyn small manufacturers. She has urged the Community Board to create a relocation fund for businesses in the Broadway Triangle.

“If left unmitigated, the result will be a loss of industrial jobs in the community at the precise moment we should be working to retain good−paying manufacturing work,” said Archibald.

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