Community rallies against mosque proposal

By Sadef Ali Kully

Dozens of community members, along with civic leaders spoke Tueaday during a hearing at the city’s Board of Standards & Appeal in opposition to the slated construction of a house of worship in Flushing.

The city’s Board of Standards & Appeals has schcduled a second hearing in April.

On Saturday, the same residents, civic leaders and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), rallied to protest the conversion of a property at 46-05 Parsons Blvd. in Flushing into a mosque that would serve an estimated 500 worshippers.

The triangular, 4,773- square-foot lot has been the source of controversy over the past year because the property’s owners, Masjid-e-Noor, submitted a request to allow for the mandated floor area ratio (the total square feet of a building divided by the total square feet of the lot where the building is located) to be 1.045 instead of the required 0.5 for a building in an R2 district. The request also asks that yard and parking requirements be waived.

Community Board 7 tabled a vote on whether to approve the construction of the mosque in January 2015 and then rejected the application in April. The January board meeting was an intense debate where cultural differences between the East and West were on display. The cultural clash was noticeable during the meeting despite the fact that everyone insisted that they were not against having a mosque but rather where they wanted it to be put.

Despite opposition to the proposal to change the mandated zoning regulations from Community Board 7 and Borough President Melinda Katz, the Masjid-e-Noor group has decided to take the issue to the Board of Standards and Appeals Tuesday for a hearing.

“There are a lot of problems here—it’s a strange lot, it’s like a slice of pie. It’s totally against zoning, the size is two times the permitted size and the height is two times the height permitted,” Tyler Cassel, who sits on the Zoning and Land Use Committee for Community Board 7, said.

Civic leaders from the Kissena Park Civic Association, Broadway Flushing Homeowners Association and Auburndale Improvement Association, along with other community leaders, said they had offered Masjid-e-Noor other property options in the vicinity, including a currently empty Mormon church which would meet all of their needs.

“Despite our effort to have a dialogue with them, they are going ahead. Community Board 7 had voted against it. The Queens Borough president has voted against it,” Avella said. “We want to work with the property owners. If they were to pick a lot capable of accommodating their congregation, I would do everything in my power to expedite the process so they could have a house of worship for their own.”

Many community members said the issue was not that the proposed building would be a mosque but that the building was too large for the pie-shaped lot, and the mosque group was asking the community to overlook many zoning regulations.

The proposal submitted to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals said the two-floor mosque would have a prayer area on each floor to accommodate 400-plus parishioners, while on the weekends the mosque would be used to teach the Quran to roughly 100 students.

In July, Emily Simons, attorney for the Masjid-e-Noor group, told members of Community Board 7 that her clients would not be able to meet the accommodations requested by the community.

“The following question comes to mind: Did the previous owner of the property inform the new owners that any new building put up there would come into question if it did not conform to the location?,” Beverly McDermott, president of Kissena Park Civic Association, said.

Rally attendees, including Muslim community members, emphasized that the opposition against the mosque had nothing to do with religion but rather was a building and zoning issue.

“This is not an infringement on a religious group,” said one community member. “We want to help them, not fight them.”

“This has nothing to do with Islamophobia,” Mazeda Uddin, a Muslim community activist, said. “This is about working together with the community they will be in. Everyone needs to work together.”

Avella said he expects many of the rally attendees will be also speaking at the Board of Standards and Appeals’ April hearing, which is to be held near City Hall.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.