State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) again has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney of the Southern District Preet Bharara to review the Board of Standards and Appeals for possible improper conduct because its chairwoman appeared at the opening for a mosque that the agency approved.
The agency also recently approved a controversial mosque proposal at 46-05 Parsons Blvd. in Flushing and posted its decision eight weeks after deciding to grant all variances sought.
Avella sent a follow-up letter to Bharara on Sept. 29 about the original letter, which was sent on July 21, prior to the BSA’s decision on the Flushing mosque.
“My concern about this situation is whether or not there was any illegal conduct by the New York City administration with regard to BSA approving a variance and the appropriateness of the BSA Chair, whose responsibility it was to rule on the variance application presented by this mosque, to appear as a speaker at the opening of this facility,” Avella said in the original letter, referencing BSA Chairwoman Marjorie Perlmutter’s attending the opening ceremony for a new mosque in Sheepshead Bay. The prior BSA — which Perlmutter was not on, despite what Avella said, while three of the five current members were — denied an appeal to stop the mosque in 2011.
“In this situation with the mosque in Sheepshead Bay the specter of unlawful influence by the administration and partiality by BSA is raised when both the Mayor and Chair Perlmutter, on the Mayor’s behalf, played such a prominent role in the opening ceremony of this center,” the senator added.
Perlmutter also presented a proclamation from the de Blasio administration to the congregation of the Sheepshead Bay mosque at its opening.
Avella also expressed concern about the length of time used by the BSA to post the decision for the mosque.
“Now that BSA has rendered its decision to grant the variances and spent an unusually long time in writing the resolution, I am concerned as to whether the administration engaged in any form of improper conduct to influence BSA’s decision in this situation as it appears to have done in the Sheepshead Bay case clearly raising the specter of whether this process may not in fact be impartial,” the senator said in the follow-up letter.
Kissena Park Civic Assocation Vice President Carsten Glaeser has been vocally opposed to the BSA’s decision.
“I think their decision was not in line with the rules, the building codes that exist, they just rubber-stamped everything,” Glaeser told the Chronicle.
Variances for sky exposure plane, parking, side yard and floor area ratio were all granted to Masjid-e-Noor, the group behind the Flushing proposal.
“The Board of Standards and Appeals has a long history of not only not paying attention to the wishes of the community but also ignoring the facts in favor of helping developers and/or other entities get their variances even if they’re not deserved,” land use expert Paul Graziano said. “I welcome an investigation by the federal government into the way that the BSA is conducting themselves.”
Community Board 7 had rejected the application, saying that the programmatic needs for the mosque would not be met at the approximately 4,791-square-foot lot. The KPCA has also said that the programmatic needs will not be met.
“We told them that a building this size, it’s like putting a size 10 foot in a size two shoe; it’s not gonna fit,” CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said. “I may like the shoe but my foot is too big.”
Avella and others also plan on filing an Article 78 lawsuit to overturn the BSA’s decision.
“The Board of Standards and Appeals granted the request for a variance to waive bulk and parking requirements in an R2 zoning district at 46-05 Parsons Boulevard in Queens,” BSA Executive Director Ryan Singer said in an emailed statement. “The proposed mosque is eligible for religious deference under New York State law. The Board reviewed the case on its merits and the applicant illustrated to the Board over the course of three hearings that there would be no negative impacts on the surrounding area by granting the waivers. The granting of the variance was not unusual for institutions of this type, the Board granted 13 such variances to educational and religious institutions in 2015.”
According to Council on American Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, opposition to mosque construction is often Islamophobic, although opponents of the Flushing mosque proposal have said that they are not against it because of the religion.
“We always hear that the opposition has nothing to do with it being a mosque or a school or a Muslim cemetery until you scratch the surface and you almost always find a level of anti-Muslim bias,” Hooper said.
The Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District declined to comment.
Masjid-e-Noor could not be reached for comment.