A Kew Gardens Hills temple with numerous building violations that wants to expand may need to turn to a higher power after Community Board 8 voted unanimously to deny its variance application, following strong opposition from neighbors.
The Sephardic Congregation, which operates in 141-41 72nd Ave., is seeking a variance from the Boards of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to build a third floor on its temple in a residentially-zoned area to ease the growth of its popular shul.
But because of 15 open Department of Buildings violations, including not having a Certificate of Occupancy, no fire alarms and a broken elevator, community board members blasted the congregation’s leadership in a meeting on Thursday and voted not to support the BSA variance application.
The ruling was cheered on by residents, who opposed to expansion because it could possibly reduce parking spots and property value while increasing garbage and noise.
“I am satisfied with [the board’s] decision,” said Denise Shore, a resident who lives next to the temple. “The system worked. It restored my faith.”
The congregation was established more than two decades ago after converting a residential house. A school, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha, was added soon after and currently enrolls 70 students of elementary school age every weekday. Currently, there are two floors and a cellar in the building. The third floor was necessary to accommodate new students, which they have had to turn away due to classroom-size limitations, congregation leaders said.
They hoped to add six additional classrooms, so they can house 185 students, doubling student enrollment and adding new teachers.
The congregation’s variance application for the third floor included asking for a pass to work in the building despite lacking the required Certificate of Occupancy and other violations. This was necessary, according to congregation lawyer Jay Goldstein, because without it they can’t legally work on the building, since it currently doesn’t meet requirements. They pledged to amend the violations if approved for the application.
However, frustrated board members split the application into two parts and denied both, the first being a variance to work in the building despite violations and the second was the variance for the third floor.
The BSA will have the final say on the application for a third floor and before that it’s expected to hit a borough president meeting. But losing the recommendation of the community board was a serious blow.
Representatives of the synagogue were visually displeased following the decision.
“I have no comment, the board did their duties as a civic association,” Goldstein said.