Avella brings church critics to BSA via bus

Avella brings church critics to BSA via bus
Filed with the BSA
By Joe Anuta

The Mormon church has altered its proposal for a chapel on 33rd Avenue in Flushing, but that did not stop opponents from chartering a bus Tuesday from the neighborhood to testify at a Manhattan hearing.

At around noon, members of civic organizations from around Flushing and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) hopped on a bus from Bowne Park that was bound for the city Board of Standards and Appeals.

The board was holding a public hearing on a chapel that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to build at 145-13 33rd Ave., which exceeds several zoning regulations.

In a revised proposal sent to the BSA, the church said it slightly downsized the chapel to eliminate one of the variances it was originally seeking, but emphasized that every square inch of the proposed church is essential for worship.

“There is nothing superfluous about the chapel,” the church said, referring not only to the main chapel and multipurpose room, but also to a series of Bible study rooms it uses each Sunday.

But opponents testified at the hearing that the church does not need the space, but merely wants it, which means the church would not be eligible for a variance. Civic leaders also said the church is still exceeding the maximum allowable floor area by about 75 percent, and that if the BSA grants the variances then it would set a precedent for other projects to violate the 2009 North Flushing Rezoning that sought to restrict the area to mostly single-family detached homes.

The proposal has already been rejected by Community Board 7 and Borough President Helen Marshall, who said the church could build on land it already owns on Sanford Avenue and that the building would be out of character with the neighborhood.

In particular, Marshall said the steeple would be one of the tallest structures in the area, especially since the alterations made ahead of the BSA hearing pushed its height to 100 feet.

The LDS church acknowledged that the community had raised concerns about the steeple and in a proposal to the BSA sought to justify its height.

“Because neighbors and community leaders have vigorously objected to the steeple, we include a brief discussion to highlight the steeple’s importance to the church’s programmatic needs,” Richard Hedberg wrote in the proposal.

Hedberg said the steeple, which is not subject to zoning regulations, symbolizes the Christian religion and that the chapel is a place of worship.

The BSA is supposed to take into consideration the testimony of the public and the decisions of CB 7 and Marshall before making a final call on whether or not to approve the variances.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.