By Alex Christodoulides
The university has housed 105 students in its dormitories at 147-04 to 147-30 Union Tpke. since fall 2005, with the 12 three-family buildings divided into apartments. The university wanted to move 48 more students into the buildings by having one additional student in each of the two- and three-bedroom units in the houses. In an effort to win permission from the board the university sought variance to change the classification of the houses from residential to a community facility. According to the Department of City Planning's zoning handbook, dorms are considered auxiliary community facilities because they support local or regional community services such as colleges, hospitals, schools or churches.At the Dec. 13 meeting, St. John's students spoke in favor of the plan, saying they treated dorm life as a privilege. But residents of the Parkway Village development behind the dorms worried about demands on parking and water, and safety issues in the area if the variance were to be approved.The treasurer of the university, Thomas E. Nedell, and the school's attorneys all wrote to CB 8 pledging that St. John's would not use the variance (if granted) in the future to build, expand, redevelop or reconfigure the site to house more than the proposed 162 students, but still the board voted 23 to 12 against the proposal at the meeting.”While we were disappointed by the vote … there was positive feedback during the public commentary portion of the meeting,” said Joseph Sciame, the university's vice president for community relations. “We are hopeful as we move on to the next levels of public hearings that there will be a favorable outcome regarding our request for a variance.””What happens if somewhere down the line a private corporation is formed to administer the buildings?” CB 8 member Marc Haken asked, worried that such an entity would not be bound to the same promises St. John's was making.Kevin Forrestal, president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association, which is adjacent to the site, objected to the proposal, saying that since a November public hearing the number of tenants had increased. He also said other St. John's dorms have exceeded their capacity.Forrestal said the university's failure to commit to the condition of not transferring the variance to another owner was a red flag.St. John's plans to pursue hearings for a variance through the borough president and the city Bureau of Standards and Appeals.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.