Officials at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are reviewing their options in Flushing after Community Board 7 unanimously rejected their request for zoning variances for a proposed church on 33rd Avenue.
The Mormon Church, as it is more commonly known, has 11 congregations in Queens. One, currently at 144-27 Sanford Ave. in Flushing, has proposed a new structure that would include a worship area and community room on the ground floor, plus classrooms and office space on a mezzanine level.
Three proposed variances are needed for the building including one to allow for a below-ground, 55-space parking garage, which would meet needs for more than 500 congregants at overlapping services on a Sunday afternoon.
Residents and board members complained about the size of the building, which is designed as 138 feet long and 102 feet wide. The steeple would top out at just under 94 feet, with the rest of the building ranging between 29 and 37 feet.
Bishop John Wu said Monday that the congregation simply has outgrown the Sanford Avenue site, a church it purchased several years ago.
“We understand you have concerns and it is our desire to minimize the impact on the neighborhood,” Wu said.
The key point in the board’s rejection was the mezzanine level classrooms and office space. It forced the church to seek a variance since a building in that zone can have floor space equalling only 50 percent of the property’s square footage, or a “floor area ratio” of 0.5.
The mezzanine level pushed the square footage of floor space to .95, nearly double that could be allowed without a variance.
“We need the space to allow us to worship as our faith requires,” Wu said. He said the community room and classrooms are necessary when services are broken down into groups based on age and gender.
The community room would allow an expansion of youth group activities and would be made available to the public.
“The current location is not large enough to meet our needs,” said Craig Homer, a construction manager who works for the Mormon Church. “We could try and get everything on the current site, but we would have to go up seven or eight floors.”
Tyler Cassell, chairman of the board’s Zoning Committee, was one of several board members who challenged the need for a building so large in a neighborhood zoned for one- and two-family houses.
“This is not a matter of need. It is a matter of want,” Cassell said. He added that the church could renovate its Sanford Avenue structure or build a smaller facility on either site as a matter of right if it adheres to zoning codes.
More than a dozen members of the church spoke up in defense of the application, some saying that they must move programs to places like Rego Park and Astoria for lack of space. Rose Villegas and Jose Lopez, members of the youth group, said they would like to be able to partake in expanded activities without having to leave their neighborhood.
“Our space is limited,” Lopez said. “And with limits come restrictions.”
Nearby resident Gale Joyce said she has no desire to have such a huge building overlooking her home.
“It would ruin my life,” she said. Representatives of a handful of civic groups from throughout Queens also showed up for the sole purpose of asking the board to vote the variances down.
Joe Amoroso, zoning chairman of the Kissena Park Civic Association and the zoning and code enforcement co-chairman of the Queens Civic Congress, called the request to nearly double the permitted floor space outrageous.
“Allowing variances of this magnitude makes a mockery of our zoning laws and would be totally out of character with this community,” Amoroso said. “Furthermore, it would set precedence for all residential communities throughout the city, thus reduc[ing] the effectiveness of our zoning laws.”
Paul DeBenedetto, a member of Community Board 11, said such a precedent would weaken communities in dealing with churches or any other entity seeking to build a public facility.
“The floodgates would be open,” DeBenedetto said.
Dr. David Duffy, a physician who serves as president of the 11-church group in Queens, was disappointed.
“I think there was preexisting opposition,” Duffy said.
He reiterated Wu’s comments that their Sunday services, which are broken down into various levels for children, young men and women and adults, place space at a premium, but that the design took the neighborhood’s concerns into account while addressing the congregation’s needs.
“The design blended in so well with the community,” he said. “What people don’t seem to realize is that after our sacrament meetings we need that space, especially with three congregations rotating throughout the building.”
“The church on Sanford Avenue was never designed as an LDS church,” he said. “We’ve been able to make do, but for things like youth activities we have to ship programs all over. We would like to be able to have a design where we can worship in a normal pattern like every other [LDS] church in the world.”
He said it is a church neighborhood, and that they will continue to proceed through channels with the current design.
“Hopefully we can convince people that we enhance a neighborhood ... that they will approve when they realize that we are not a threat,” Duffy said.
In other CB 7 matters, the board on Monday approved plans for historic restoration and code work at Building 325 at Fort Totten Park.
The building, now used by the FDNY for classroom space, will be getting a renovated “old” front entrance with steel steps, period woodwork and a copper roof.
The work will be based on photos taken between 1895 and the 1940s.
The board also elected officers for 2012, reelecting Chairman Gene Kelty and First Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian
Kim Ohanian jumped from fourth vice chair to third vice chair, outpolling Phil Konigsburg, while Joe Femina defeated Konigsburg for fourth vice chair.