By Madina Toure
At the monthly Community Board 8 meeting at the Hillcrest Jewish Center, board members turned down an application for one synagogue due to existing violations but voted to approve another synagogue’s application.
The synagogues — Torah Haim Ohel Sara on 144-11 77th Ave.and Sharey Tefilah on 144-02 76th Road in Flushing — submitted variance applications to the community board. Ohel Sara’s application was for an amendment to an existing variance while Sharey Tefilah’s application was for a new variance.
Out of 40 board members present, 37 voted against approving Ohel Sara’s application, while three voted in favor. Thirty-three board members voted in favor of approving Sharey Tefilah’s application, while eight voted against. One of the members left before the second vote.
Because Ohel Sara did not have the correct side, rear or front yard requirements, the city Department of Buildings could not give it a permit. DOB told the synagogue to apply for a variance through the Board of Standards and Appeals. The synagogue started doing work without permits and ended up building the current property.
The synagogue then submitted a variance application to CB8 in March 2010. The board voted overwhelmingly against approving the application, with 33 members voting against it and one voting in favor.
The BSA still granted the synagogue variance in 2011 to legalize the work it had already done, but asked the institution to submit an occupancy certificate by March 8, 2012. The synagogue did not meet the deadline.
At the Nov. 12 meeting, the board voted against granting the synagogue variance due to the fact that it did not follow instructions.
“Even though they were given the variance by the BSA, they failed to get a certification of occupation by the allotted time that was given to them by the BSA,” Marie Adam-Ovide, CB8’s district manager, said. “So they needed to come back to us and again, the board felt that because they repeatedly disobeyed the rules they could not recommend that they approve the variance a second time.”
The Sharey Tefilah synagogue did not do any work yet, but its proposed floor area, lot coverage, front yard and side yard requirements are higher than the typical size. It is the synagogue’s first time approaching the board for a variance.
“Everything is higher than it’s supposed to be, that’s why they need a variance. Otherwise they can build it as of right,” Adam-Ovide continued.
Richard Lobel, the lawyer for the Ohel Sara synagogue, noted that the current leadership at the synagogue that submitted the application at the community board meeting is not responsible for the synagogue building’s current problems.
The amendment, he said, is about improving the structural elements of the building, including updating egress from the building and changing the bathroom layout.
“We are just trying to do this to make a safer and more usable building,” Lobel said. “We respect the community board and we look forward to a long relationship with this community, but we definitely feel that these are necessary changes to make to this building.”
The board submitted its recommendations to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz as well as the BSA, both of which will make the final decision.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4566.