Dozens of civic leaders from the Flushing and Bayside areas gathered last Thursday at the site of a proposed church to voice their objections to its large size.
More than 30 people gathered at 145-15 33 Road to protest the plan to build a two-story structure with 55 underground parking spaces and a nine-story steeple that would loom over the mostly one-family houses in the neighborhood.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints needs a variance because the project is almost twice the size permitted. The proposed building would be 23,097 square feet, when only about 12,200 is allowed. The residents called on the Board of Standards and Appeals to deny the variance and enforce the zoning.
The rally was led by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who said that if the BSA allows the variance, he and others would sue to overturn the decision. As a city councilman, Avella was mainly responsible for the city downzoning the area three years ago. “This is a very serious issue,” Avella said. “We worked hard to change the zoning, to keep low density and it’s very distressing to be here today.”
He called the proposal “a monster of a facility” that would set “a dangerous precedent throughout the city,” since no other religious institution has yet challenged the downzoning.
“We rezoned the area to R2A to eliminate McMansions and this project would undo it,” Avella added.
He noted that the church’s existing facility at 144-27 Sanford Ave. is in an area zoned R7-1 that would allow making that building 10 times bigger than what’s allowed at the proposed site. “Why are we even considering this?” Avella asked.
Paul Graziano, a zoning consultant who worked with Avella on rezoning measures, said the 95-foot-tall steeple wouldn’t fit in the neighborhood of mostly 25- to 30-foot homes and suggested the church build as of right at its present location.
Tyler Cassell, a member of Community Board 7 and president of the North Flushing Civic Association, noted that the BSA has five requirements it would want met to warrant a variance and the Mormon church doesn’t meet three of them. The BSA questions the church did not answer in such a way to get an exemption are: is the lot unique, would the variance change the character of the neighborhood and is the request a minimum variance?
Cassell said the lot is not unique in any way; the variance would greatly affect the character of the neighborhood; and the allowance sought is far from minimum.
Kim Cody, president of the Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, said the plan could not go forward, “because it will have a domino effect everywhere.”
Andy Rothman, a member of Community Board 11 in Bayside, attended the demonstration with two other CB 11 members in support. “This is a problem for all,” Rothman added.
Jackie Forrestal, a member of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, said that civics “fought hard for these zoning changes and we don’t want to see them abused.”
Henry Euler agreed. He is a member of CB 11 and the Auburndale Improvement Association. He carried a sign [which] read in part, “Respect the zoning, which protects against inappropriate development.”
Cassell said there is no religious component to the opposition. “Just look at the criteria,” he said. “We urge the BSA to use their own findings in turning down the request.”
Earlier this year, CB 7 voted unanimously against the plan and in February, Borough President Helen Marshall also vetoed it, saying it would be out of character and scale with the surrounding area. She also suggested church officials consider building a larger chapel at the present location.
But those denials can simply be overridden by the BSA. The proposal is expected to go before the board in April.