Tent and food set for Lubavitchers 1

Pilgrims visit the grave of the Rebbe Menacham Schneerson.

Community Board 13 has rejected a proposal by an area synagogue to extend its property in order to accommodate the hundreds of people who visit the area each year on the anniversary of a key religious leader’s death, citing concerns about traffic, litter and a lack of respect for the neighborhood.

Every year around late June and early July, members of Congregation Ohel Chabad Lubavitch visit the grave of the Rebbe Manachem Schneerson and his father-in-law, Yosef Schneersohn, the prior rebbe, at Montefiore Cemetery in Cambria Heights.

The congregation, located at 226-20 Francis Lewis Blvd., owns five 1 and 1/2 story single family residences with a temporary structure that goes across approximately half of the rear yard of the properties as a whole. The site was converted to a synagogue and community facility more than 15 years ago after the rebbe’s death and it abuts the cemetery.

Visitors use the area to study, eat and pray. It also serves as a place where people can stay prior to visiting the gravesite, which is a holy place for the Lubavitch sect and others as well. On many occasions the pilgrimage coincides with the Sabbath, so individuals are not able to leave until the next day.

The congregation is seeking to expand the houses to two stories, build a permanent one-story building in the backyard, remove the driveways and join all the buildings together, according to Richard Hellenbrecht, chairman of CB 13’s Land Use Committee. It would have a footprint of 22,000-square-feet.

The proposed structure would exceed the permitted floor area and lot coverage and would not be in compliance with the front, side and rear yard or parking requirements, so the group filed for variances with the Board of Standards and Appeals.

CB 13 unanimously rejected the proposal by a vote of 35-0, because of overwhelming community opposition to the plan. The congregation did not return a request for comment.

At a public hearing at Antun’s in Queens Village on June 2, approximately 175 people, most of them from Cambria Heights, turned out to voice their concerns.

They raised several issues including alleged littering, illegal parking, traffic congestion, loitering on people’s porches and in their front yards overnight, people chanting at 5 a.m. and a general lack of respect for the neighborhood.

The congregation has three Department of Buildings violations and 13 Environmental Control Board violations, according to the DOB’s website, including unresolved fines for work without a permit stemming back to 1996. That has also raised safety concerns among community members.

“The aforementioned issues have been discussed numerous times at pre-event meetings sponsored by the congregation with their sole response being that their leadership team would do their best to address the issues as they arise,” said Kelli Singleton, president of the Cambria Heights Civic Association, in a letter to CB 13 Chairman Bryan Block, which she read aloud at the board meeting. “Unfortunately, their attempts at mitigation have been to no avail. As such, the residents have become weary of the resulting degrading and frustrating circumstances that have been forced upon them.”

People come from all over the country, though largely from various parts of Brooklyn, to pay their respects to the rebbe and leave notes which they write directly to him.

This year the festivities began on July 4 at sundown and continued until the next day at 10 a.m.

“Any time there are large crowds, there will be people who will act inappropriately,” Frederick Becker, the attorney for the congregation, said Thursday. “They attempt to monitor them as best they can, but there have been problems, and we are trying to rectify that.”

The congregation posts signs in the area and provides rules for visitors on its website reminding them not to litter, block driveways, step or congregate on lawns or make noise at night.

“We are certain that with the necessary care, we will be able to ensure that our neighbors will continue to maintain the quality of life they are accustomed to,” the website says.