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Photo by Angela Matua/QNS
Photo by Angela Matua/QNS

After months of discussions, contentious meetings and plan changes, Community Board 2 officially voted ‘no’ on Thursday night to a Woodside church’s plans to expand from a one-story building to a five-story structure.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, located at 68-03 Roosevelt Ave., is seeking a variance from the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to build a new, 79-foot, five-story church with parking. The building is currently 45 feet high and if the variance is granted, it will be demolished to make way for the new structure.

On Feb. 2 the community board listened to testimony from dozens of church congregants about why the church needed additional space and how the church helped members find jobs, kick drug habits, find a place to play after school and find a family away from home.

WNET-TV has started live-streaming the meetings and you can watch the full conversation on YouTube.

Plans for the new building were first announced to the public in September and architects have tweaked them since then to try to assuage some concerns expressed by board members and the community. A public plaza was added in response to the board’s concern that demolishing the current building on Roosevelt Avenue would create a void corner and dead space.

The existing building is 17,860 square feet while the proposed structure would be 67,000 square feet and would include 150 parking spaces. The church can build a wider building as-of-right, according to Land Use Chair Lisa Ann Deller, but they cannot build as high as they’d like because the area was rezoned in 2011 to preserve the community’s residential characteristics.

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“We focused about two years of our time, the board’s time and the community of Sunnyside and Woodside’s time on rezoning this community and we looked at focusing on development and density on the major thoroughfares like Roosevelt Avenue and working to protect the more residential character of the community like 38th Avenue.”

The church is located in two zoning districts. Currently, the building is located in an R-6 zoning district while the parking lot is in an R-5D district. Architects are proposing to construct the new building in the lower density zoning district and that is why they are seeking the variance.

The BSA lists five findings that it needs to make in order to grant a variance and the community board used them to make their ultimate decision.

Woodside residents who live in the area have continuously opposed the plans for the larger structure, arguing that years of construction and additional cars entering and exiting the parking lot would negatively impact the quality of life there.

One of the strongest opponents speaking against the plans was the large Filipino community in the area, which is also referred to as Little Manila. Many of the business surrounding the church are owned by Filipinos. Groups like the FilAm Dems collected 300 petitions from residents and business owners to present to Community Board 2 to inform their decision.

Congregants of the church, many of whom did not live in Woodside, mentioned the Filipino community when making their point for the zoning variance and caused some tension. Many mentioned that they were willing to work with Little Manila and others said they were disappointed that the Filipino community was against the church.

“I feel like were descending on a very slippery slope here when it seems to be the Filipino group against the church,” said board member Joe Conley. “It is not. The Filipino community is one of many in the community that will come to the board to express their opinion but for the future, for the people who are coming to speak, I don’t think you should continue to attack the Filipino group or the Filipino community because they’re only a part of the process.”

The board voted unanimously to recommend that the BSA not grant the zoning variance to the church.

“If you combine the land, the property that the church owns, you can grow, you can build a church that’s bigger and better and can have more community classrooms and places for children to be educated and learn about their religion but what we’re opposing here is, were opposing having the greater density adjacent to the residential neighborhood,” Deller said.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer also attended the meeting to announce that he was ultimately against the expansion the way it is currently planned and that he has introduced bills to mandate that the BSA take into consideration community input when making their decisions. The BSA does not necessarily consider a community board’s vote when they decide to grant a zoning variance.

Aries Dela Cruz, president of Filipino American Democratic Club of New York, said the community commends the board for their decision.

“As we have maintained, and as the community board noted, the church is not prevented from expanding with the same or more square footage,” he said. “The only thing the community, and now the community board, does not want them to do is to build higher.”

The BSA can ultimately grant the zoning variance if, after reviewing the application, they make the five findings listed on their website.

QNS reached out to the church for clarification on their next steps pending the BSA’s decision.

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