CB 8 rejects shul’s request to expand up

Community Board 8 denied a variance request from the Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Hillcrest to expand its building height in order to accommodate a higher number of congregants after hearing negative testimony from the community. GOOGLE MAPS IMAGE

Hillcrest neighbors testified there is no demand for more space

After hearing testimony from dozens of community members, Community Board 8 last Wednesday rejected an application by the Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Hillcrest to expand its synagogue.

The applicants are seeking a variance that would allow them to expand the height of the 81-04 166 St. synagogue to 42 feet and its sidewall to 85 feet.

“We are always over capacity. We’ve had an immediate space need even before Covid. We found ourselves restricted in this capacity where we actually had to turn people away during the high holidays because there is not enough space that we have,” one congregant said during the public speaking portion, adding that parking wouldn’t affect the largely residential area because most congregants walk to the synagogue.

Several other shul members spoke, urging the board to approve the variance so they could expand their programming and community activities. One said that as many as 300 members crowd the rooms of the tiny temple during holidays and weekend.

But other speakers who live in the area testified during the hybrid meeting, held at Hillcrest Jewish Center and livestreamed via Zoom, that the congregation’s lack of space issue was imaginary.

“I’m a good neighbor. I’ve gone there, turned on the lights, air conditioning while they’re having prayers. I clean the snow,” said Drew, who has lived across the street from the synagogue for 30 years. “I have never seen 300 people there. Never. It’s never crowded. I’ve gone in there while they have service, it’s never crowded.”

Others echoed the sentiment, and argued that parking isn’t an issue. But some neighbors argued that the congregants frequently block driveways during the week.

CB 8 found several issues with the application itself. Some members raised concern that the height of the proposed building would alter the character of the neighborhood.

Others worried that the applicants had plans for the building not stated within the application, namely connected to the request to install a commercial kitchen.

“They’re calling this a commercial kitchen,” said Kevin Forrestal. “Why is anybody going to build a commercial kitchen if you’re not going to cater?”

Forrestal also noted that there were discrepancies within the plans and the application, including how big the kitchen would be. The board submitted various questions to the applicants over one year prior that have continued to go unanswered, which he found “insulting.”

“We can’t continue to provide these variances for these types of projects,” said board member Kenneth Cohen. “One: especially when the community comes out to speak overwhelmingly against it, and two: these are a lot of times irreversible. How many times are we going to allow things to happen that are irreversible in our community that permanently change it?”

Jesse Rosenbaum moved to table the application, a suggestion that was received positively until the board realized the Board of Standards and Appeals would be hearing it before the end of November. Rosenbaum rescinded the suggestion, and the board instead voted to reject the application 28-9.

credit to qchron.com