Local Businesses Alarmed by Jerome Rezoning

Jerome Ave. small business owner Benito Almonte. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Benito Almonte has run his business Auto Glass, located at 1277 Jerome Avenue, for 14 years, and it has provided well for his family. However, he admits that the City Council’s recent decision to green-light a rezoning plan for this area of the Bronx fills him with anxiety. The Dominican man knows that the closing of his business is imminent, and even though he says he understands the project might benefit the community, he calls on the city to provide more economic support to the affected local businesses.

The de Blasio Administration announced, through the Department of Small Business Services, that it will offer a bonus of up to $20,000 for the auto parts businesses and other local industries that need to move out of the neighborhood, as part of a $ 1.5 million fund for relocation help. Almonte thinks this is not enough.

“I’ve been here for 14 years and, truth is, with $20,000 you don’t go anywhere. When you look for a location, they ask you for two and three months’ rent in advance. We should at least get $60,000,” said the small business owner, who doesn’t want the rezoning plan to take him by surprise and has been trying for months to find a good location without success.

“I’ve been looking for a venue but there are not any. And the ones that exist cost $6,000 and $7,000, without electricity, and here I pay $3,500 all included, so $20,000 would cover just that. And what about the move? What about the time we won’t be able to work? Who will pay for that?” he added.

A few blocks from there at a rim store, Francisco Morán had the same complaint. The owner of the 20-year business says that a $20,000 subsidy is a sort of joke.

“You don’t get nowhere with that, and what’s worse is, they haven’t even told us how is it going to work and whether we all can apply. They are telling us nothing,” said the Dominican man. He added that the Jerome Ave. urban development plan – which will rezone 95 blocks between 167 and 184 streets to create more housing units and follows similar plans in such neighborhoods as East New York, Far Rockaway and East Harlem – wiped the smile off his face.

Along with the owners’ concerns, hundreds of employees who are fearing for their jobs  are calling on the city to extend the bonuses to workers.

“We work out of necessity, not by choice, and when this thing starts, we will be left out with nothing, and then who is going to care about us?” said Vladimir Lora, who has worked for 10 years in the rim store. “This money help should be specially for us, the ones who are really going to be screwed over. They are only benefiting the owners and that’s not fair.”

Randol Martínez, who has worked in the store for 10 years, added to the complaint: “If the city doesn’t help us with money and new jobs, we could even become homeless.”

More housing and aid

The city, however, insists that it will not abandon the area business owners and employees. On top of the $20,000 program for the auto industry and other business in that corridor, there will be a training program for the area workers.

“The Jerome Avenue plan invests in communities that had never before had a fair backing,” said a spokesman for the de Blasio Administration, who added that the Bronx project will have a considerable impact in the community. “We will make significant investments to protect and build affordable housing, repair streets, build new schools and improve parks. We will also invest in jobs, training and businesses along the corridor, including the auto industry.”

Beyond housing subsidies, the city is consigning $189 million to invest in parks and other public space improvements. Approximately a quarter of the total housing in the area (1,150) will be permanently affordable through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program.

The NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS), which will manage directly the allocation of bonuses, said that they are taking very seriously the concerns of the area’s businesses.

“New York is committed to guarantee that companies and workers can access the city’s resources (…)”, said a spokesman for the agency, who added that they are working with the area Council members to better serve the community, including visits with a mobile unit.

As for the details on how the bonuses will be allocated, “we are currently exploring the next steps in the implementation of the subsidies program,” the spokesman said.

In spite of the worries and doubts about the rezoning plan, the council members who represent the area, Fernando Cabrera and Vanessa Gibson, are optimistic about the Jerome Ave. prospects.

“I’m proud of what we have achieved through the process and I hope I will witness a thriving Jerome Corridor in the next years,” said Gibson, who along with Cabrera managed to promote in the plan the construction of two new 458-seat schools, and the preservation of 2,500 existing affordable housing units for the next two years.

Area council members who pushed for the plan expressed their satisfaction for the 48-0 vote. “It’s a great victory for the people of the Bronx,” said Cabrera.

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“With today’s vote, the City Council has secured a positive future for the Jerome Avenue corridor that is inclusive of the area’s current residents and does not leave the people of The Bronx behind,” said Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. in a statement.

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