By Sadef Ali Kully
Almost a hundred Cambria Heights residents, including civic association and elected officials, collectively spoke out against a proposed religious school for the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Cambria Heights Dec. 3 during a land use hearing at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.
A Chabad-Lubavitch entity, a sect of the Hasidic Jewish community, proposed construct a four-story religious school and dormitory which would cater to over 300 students not including the 64 that would be living on the premises. The school, covering three properties 224-12 and 224-20 Francis Lewis Blvd., would be next door to one of the holiest sites for the Chabad-Lubavitch in North America, the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch, the burial site of the famed Rebbe Menachem Schneerson at the Montefiore Cemetery.
The proposal requires a variance to allow a construction of such a large size in an R2A zoned neighborhood. R2A, is a residential zoning district, which allows for the expansion of existing homes, but the facade has to be consistent with the scale and character of the neighborhood.
The proposed school would stand four-stories tall, instead of two floors required in a R2A district. The maximum expansion allowed under R2A zoning is 6,177 square feet while the proposed building would expand nearly six times that size.
While the relationship between the Chabad-Lubavitch community and Cambria Heights has not been the best for many years.
At the hearing, women, men and the attorney Sheldon Lobel representing the Chabad community supported the plan. The members of the Jewish community brought almost a dozen young boys to the hearing, “They are learning how democracy works,” Rabbi Adam Brooker, assistant director at Keren Peulos, the entity that proposed the school.
In October, Community Board 13 members unanimously voted against the school proposal citing the existing issues they had with the visitors at the Ohel.
According to the residents complaints at the hearing, Ohel visitors have trashed their neighborhood and blocked their driveways. They said the neighborhood was zoned to go against the very project the Chabad community had proposed.
Rabbi Abba Refson at the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch said the proposal of the new school was not connected with the Ohel center.
The group Keren Puelos, which proposed the school, has a online school and owns the three properties, for the proposal, neighboring the Ohel.
Rabbi Brooker said the learning format would be lecture based as well as one on one instruction. He added that the majority of the students would be younger grades. He added, “This is the most holiest place for us in this country.”
Borough President Melinda Katz concluded the hearing, “I understand the commitment to the community and I also understand the importance of a educational institution.”
Katz will vote on the issue in the coming weeks, if the proposal is completely rejected then it will be submitted to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull