A public hearing on the proposed enlargement of a parochial school building stirred up considerable discussion during the monthly meeting of Community Board 7 on Monday in Flushing.
The matter of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School expansion in Whitestone drew dozens of concerned parties, which had a standing-room-only crowd.
Many of those in attendance had signed up to speak during the public hearing portion of the meeting, with most, if not all, in favor of the variance that would authorize the enlargement of the building, located at 12-03 150 St.
One area resident, Jay Jones, told the Chronicle on Tuesday that he had wanted to sign up to speak against the proposal, but was not given the opportunity.
“Every name they called” from the sign-up sheet, he said, “were members of the church or parents. No names called were opposed to the extension. I know there were names on the opposing list.”
Jones surmised that, feeling so outnumbered, those individuals had either left or were too intimated to express themselves.When the board’s final vote was taken, the application was approved, with several stipulations, by a vote of 35-1.
According to an application on behalf of the church, “The school is in severe need to expand its facilities to meet the programmatic needs of its existing students as well as the community’s demand for additional school seats.”
The application indicates that “development limitations imposed by the existing school building make it impossible to meet these needs without the requested bulk variance to allow the proposed enlargement.”
The project would allow Holy Cross, which now serves students in nursery through third grade, to add fourth- and fifth-grade classes.
The site is a corner lot with frontage on the south side of 12th Avenue and the east side of 150th Street.
The proposed enlargement of the existing school building would not comply with zoning resolution’s requirements pertaining to maximum permitted community facility floor area; sky exposure; and accessory parking spaces, hence the variance request.
The enlargement would involve building out the setback area along the 12th Avenue frontage and adding one new floor so that, upon completion, the building would consist of a sub-cellar, cellar and two floors above grade.
Because of space constraints, 50 of the school’s 180 students are now housed in portable trailers located in the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church parking lot, across the street from the school. It is expected that with the proposed enlargement, enrollment would gradually increase to approximately 250 students.
CB 7 board member Joseph Sweeney said that committee meetings had been held on Feb. 12 and March 12 to look into the proposed variance. A motion was made, he indicated, to approve it with several stipulations, including:
• Posted “one way” signs are to be installed at the 12th Avenue entrance to the church parking lot for the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on school days;
• posted “one way” sign indicating “exit only” on school days at the 150th Street exit of the church parking lot;
• staff would be required to park only in the church parking lot and not on the local streets;
• all staff cars are to be parked in a predetermined area and stacked next to each other;
• the school would pursue the installation of a stop sign at 150th Street and 12th Avenue;
• and the school, CB 7 and Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) would continue to pursue a request for a crossing guard at 12th Avenue and 150th Street.
Vallone indicated at Monday’s meeting that the applicants “have done their due diligence. They have my full support.”
In a letter to the Board of Standards and Appeals, Vallone supported the proposed variance, saying, “The modest expansion would grant the school an opportunity to develop a curriculum which is appropriate for the needs of its student body, as well as the ability to better serve the demand of families from the surrounding community.”
One of the speakers at the meeting, Bess Kalamotovsakis, spoke for many when she said, “Community schools like Holy Cross teach not only academics, they foster community pride, civic awareness and social responsibility.”
On the committee’s recommendation, the board approved the motion. The lone dissenter, Kim Cody, said after the vote, “I’ve seen the traffic. Our concern is a child is going to get hurt. It’s too much traffic in that area.”
A second public hearing centered on an application for a special permit to permit the alteration and enlargement of an existing office building at 16-16 Whitestone Expressway, without the required off-street parking spaces. It was approved.
The site consists of two tax lots, developed with an existing three-story office building, with accessory parking at grade level.
Plans for a proposed parking structure call for 77 spaces at the basement level and 61 at the first-floor level, for a total of 138 spaces.
According to attorneys for the applicant, the proposed spaces would result in a ratio of one space per 417 square feet of floor area, substantially more than the 96 spaces otherwise required.
Utilizing the building would be offices of Local 30 Operating Engineers union, with a portion available as rental space.
According to Chuck Apelian, who chairs the committee looking into the application, two stipulations were recommended: The parking areas would be specifically delineated with signage; and the electronic gate on the south entrance would be moved farther back on the property so traffic won’t back up onto the Whitestone Expressway.
Among other issues discussed briefly were possible term limits on board members and the resignation from the board of 38-year veteran Arthur Barragan, who was overcome with emotion as he made the announcement.