Monday, December 13, 2010

Church Building Plan in South Ozone Park Approved by BSA by Bryan Yurcan -Queens Chronicle

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This lot at 130-34 Hawtree Creek Road in Ozone Park will be the future site of a new church for the Bethany House of Worship - PHOTO BY STEVE MALECKI

The city Board of Standards and Appeals granted a zoning variance for a controversial Ozone Park church project, three months after Community Board 10 rejected the proposal.

The BSA on Nov. 23 voted 5-0 to grant the Bethany House of Worship a variance to construct a new church at 130-34 Hawtree Creek Road in South Ozone Park. The plans call for a 1,240 square-foot, two-story building. The church needed the variance because the facility would be built without the front yard and parking lot required by the city’s zoning law.

In September, CB 10 conducted a public hearing on the proposal, which many community residents opposed. The board decided by a near-unanimous vote that the church’s request did not meet any of the requirements for granting a zoning variance, and forwarded its opinion to the BSA.

Community boards, however, only act in an advisory capacity and their rulings are not binding, and the BSA disagreed with the board’s conclusion.

Much of the opposition at September’s meeting stemmed from some residents’ belief that the lot the church wants to build on is not big enough to house the building, that congregants would take up much of the on-street parking since there is no lot and that the construction of the building would damage adjacent properties.

Jeff Mulligan, executive director of the BSA, said New York state courts have established a “deference” for religious institutions when it comes to zoning matters, and that there is a lower threshold for such institutions to prove the need for a variance.

Specifically, the board cited a case, Westchester Reform Temple v. Brown, where the courts established that a religious institution’s application for such a zoning variance is to be permitted “unless it can be shown to have an adverse effect upon the health, safety or welfare of the community,” and that concerns about traffic and disruption of the residential character of a neighborhood are insufficient grounds for the denial of an application.

“The Board finds that this action will neither alter the essential character of the surrounding neighborhood nor impair the use or development of adjacent properties, nor will it be detrimental to the public welfare,” the BSA wrote in its decision.

The board granted the variance with the condition that the building be only used as a house of worship. Additionally, any change in ownership of the building would require prior approval from the BSA.

“The board always considers a community board’s recommendation, but in this instance it was established that they needed this size building for this congregation,” said Mulligan.

Betty Braton, chairwoman of CB 10, said the board made its best case to the BSA.

“Unfortunately, they don’t always heed our recommendations, though most of the time they do,” she said.

Margaret Finnerty, president of the Richmond Hill South Civc, who also opposes the plan, said she was disappointed and frustrated with the BSA’s ruling.

“I don’t know how they can disregard all our points about why this variance shouldn’t be granted,” she said. “It’s really going to put a hardship on the community.”

Finnerty said she planned on meeting with other members of the community who oppose the project to see if they have any recourse.

“I hope there is something we can do,” she said.