By Alex Christodoulides
At a land use hearing last Thursday, after listening to the attorney for the congregation describe the building his clients want and the worries of residents whose houses are near the proposed temple site on 80th Road at the corner of Chevy Chase Street, Marshall indicated that she needed to weigh the application.Attorney Richard Lobel represented the 400-plus-member Bukharian Cultural Center in its application to build the temple larger than the zoning allows and to dispense with the 23 required parking spots because he said some 96 percent of the congregation lives within walking distance of the site.”I use the word 'congregation' and not 'synagogue' because [the Bukharian Cultural Center] has been in existence about 10 years and has never had a home,” Lobel said. The group has rented space in nearby restaurants and shuls to pray, which sometimes forces congregants to drive on the sabbath, he said.Lobel said the congregation expected to hold morning prayers and smaller events such as a bris, but nothing as big as a wedding or bar mitzvah.The changes to the neighborhood are not limited to this site. This would be the third official shul on the block, along with Anshe Shalom at the corner of 80th Road at Kent Street and Hillcrest Jewish Center on Union Turnpike. Lobel and neighbors said a house two doors from the site was illegally converted in 2007 to a shul for an Israeli congregation. A former dry cleaner at the corner of Union Turnpike and Chevy Chase Street is rumored to become a banquet hall, but Buildings Department records list it as a proposed retail store site with a stop-work order.”Beit Israel of Jamaica Estates took over a single-family house two doors down, and the house that's sandwiched in the middle is now up for sale,” said neighbor Laura Schwartzberg, who brought a petition with 38 signatures.”Anshe Shalom is going to have events there, but it's under construction so we haven't felt the effect. Hillcrest parks their buses along [Kent Street], then they circle around the corner and drive down 80th Road” to drop off day school students, Schwartzberg said to illustrate the tight parking and traffic concerns in the area. “There are four institutions in one block – not just synagogues, centers, where they will have lectures and events.”Another complaint of local residents was that commuters who use the express buses park along the local streets, making on-street parking nearly impossible for anyone without a driveway.Helene Pangalos grew up opposite the proposed temple site, where her parents still live, and lamented the recent change in the neighborhood's character from homes with families to facilities that are often vacant.”We're living among numerous empty boxes – the dry cleaner, Anshe Shalom, this synagogue,” she said.Karen Gardner, who said she has lived opposite the site for decades, protested the area's saturation of religious facilities.”We have four synagogues on one city block. Nowhere else between Utopia Parkway and Cunningham Park has this concentration,” she said. “I would like the needs of taxpaying homeowners to be considered.”After listening to neighbors of the site, but declining to hear congregation spokesman Joshua Levy, Marshall weighed in at the end of the hearing.”Churches, synagogues and houses of worship have thrived all over the place,” she said. “But I have some serious questions.”Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.