February 2, By Hannah Wulkan
Community Board 2 delivered a huge blow to the proposed mega church project in Woodside last night, voting unanimously to oppose the rezoning application requested by the church.
The Universal Church, which has been located at 63-08 Roosevelt Avenue for more than 20 years, has been seeking a Board of Standards and Appeals variance to allow it to build a new six-story, nearly 70,000 square foot building since last summer.
The proposed building would be erected on the site next to the existing church. The existing church would be demolished.
The current zoning of the proposed site does not permit buildings to be more than 45 feet tall and requires them to be at least 30 feet from the property line. The variance requested would alter those requirements, allowing the church to build a 79 feet tall structure and permit it to be within 10 feet from the property line at the rear of the site.
After hearing from several elected officials and hours of passionate testimony both in favor and against the church, Community Board 2 voted
unanimously to oppose the church’s proposal.
Land Use chair Lisa Deller explained before the vote that under the current zoning codes, the church could easily build a new structure as-of-right with as much, or more, square footage on the existing church site.
Deller laid out the specific criteria that the church was required to meet for the variance to be granted by the BSA.
The BSA Rules require that the project will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood, the hardship that the site created was not caused or created by the applicant, and that the proposal would be for the minimum necessary to afford relief.
While laying out the rules, Deller argued that the proposed structure goes against the character of the neighborhood and does not meet the final criteria of affording minimum necessary relief because the church could easily build as-of-right.
“This is not a referendum on religion, or on this church, or whether or not it does good works or great works, we accept and are thankful that they do, and all of us individually can support all of that,” said board member Pat O’Brian. “The problem that arises, though, is that the Land Use committee does not support the design and how they want to build what they’re building.”
The vote came on the heels of several hours of heated testimony in a packed room from both those opposing the church and those in favor of building.
The church had bused in congregants from all over the city and Long Island to show their support, filling the room with people holding signs in support of the church.
A smaller, but equally vocal, Filipino contingent came to oppose the project, worried that it would threaten the area, which is known as Little Manila.
Those against the church argued that it would bring in gentrification and threaten small business owners, as well as create more traffic and construction noise.
Several elected officials also spoke out against the project. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said he would be writing a letter to the BSA opposing the project, though explained that it was largely because he did not approve of the BSA process and would oppose most proposals going through the process, which can easily disregard community input.
Recently elected Assemblyman Brian Barnwell also spoke against the project, explaining that he was worried that the proposal did not take in to consideration much of the community input.
Those in favor of the construction shared stories of how the church helped them overcome addiction or bad circumstances earlier in life, and described it as a “family.” Several compared services in the current church building to trying to squeeze a large family in a one-bedroom apartment, explaining that they needed more space.
The church also explained that it would offer community programming and would open up its parking spaces to the public during off-peak church hours.
O’Brian ultimately explained that much of the testimony was emotional, and was not applicable to the decision the board had to make about whether the zoning variance made sense.
The 31 members of the board present at the meeting voted unanimously to oppose the proposal, though their decision is merely advisory.
The BSA will review the application in the coming months, taking in to account the Community Board’s opposition, as well as letters from elected officials, and will make a final decision as to whether or not to grant the zoning variance.