Moments before leaving for Albany on Tuesday evening, state Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-South Ozone Park) offered to help mediate the ongoing dispute between the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans and neighbors over a proposed 5-story senior housing complex that the church wants to build on Farmers Boulevard.
He should have stayed another 20 minutes, as the meeting, hosted by the St. Albans Civic Association, erupted into a nearly five-minute shouting match before about 30 church members walked out of the Guy R. Brewer Democratic Club.
The land in question is at 118-27/47 Farmers Blvd. in a neighborhood containing mostly one- and two-family houses.
The church wants the 67 units of mixed-use housing.
Residents fear that 67 units could bring into a small plot of land more than 200 new residents, who they believe could overwhelm area schools, parking availability, infrastructure and services.
“Sixty-seven units on this site is just not feasible,” Bernard Harrigan, president of the St. Albans Civic Association, said. “We’ve been asked ‘Is there a project you would support?’ Yes — build what you can build as of right.”
Under city zoning regulations, the church could build 22 units in three stories or fewer with about 26 parking spaces. But developers sought and received variances for height, allowable floor space and parking from Community Board 12 in November.
The final approval now must come from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals. Harrigan said no hearing is yet on the BSA’s calendar, but that he wants to bring at least 25 residents to speak in opposition when a hearing does take place.
In his opening remarks, Harrigan said the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was “to galvanize those in opposition to this project.”
But that line also had the effect of galvanizing a group of about 30 supporters of the church, a group led by its pastor, the Rev. Edward Davis.
Damani Nyaluma, a church elder and neighborhood resident, was among a handful saying that they would be more than willing to answer questions, discuss residents’ concerns and provide information if given the opportunity to speak.
“You don’t have all the answers on this,” he said. “You’re saying that the only voice in the community is that of the civic association. I find that disturbing.”
One church supporter repeatedly interrupted the proceedings. Another, when called on, attempted to approach the podium to speak just before a shouting match broke out and lasted several minutes.
Davis quietly asked the church group to leave with him just before tensions briefly flared up again.
About 50 people remained for the rest of the meeting.
Resident Mike Pope said afterward that there was a reason that developers had to get the variances from CB 12.
“The [Department of Buildings} rejected the proposal as too large,” he said.
Pope also said that while city and state regulations offer considerable leeway to churches for construction projects, that BSA officials already have said this is being categorized as an affordable housing project rather than a religious one.
Resident Karen Plummer was among a handful who believes the developers’ need for the expanded size comes down to money.
“I once asked someone from the developer why they couldn’t just scale it down,” she said. “He told me it wouldn’t be economically feasible.”
Former Councilman Archie Spigner summarized the feelings of those who said they are not opposed to Davis or the church — just the current size of the project.
“Rev. Davis is a nice guy,” Spigner said. “He’s a popular man, and he’s a very powerful man. I just happen to disagree with him on this.”
Spigner backed the residents and civic association officials who believe they are fighting for their quality of life.
“And once you lose it, you never get it back,” he said.
Harrigan said the BSA will send notices to all neighbors within a 400-foot radius of the site when a public hearing date is set.