Synagogue refused variance request – Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Jamaica Estates

Moments before taking a vote, Community Board 8 member Steven Konigsberg addresses his peers on his opposition to the Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Jamaica Estates’ application to amend a variance.

Community opposed to Bukharian Jewish Congregation’s application

After two postponements that dragged the process out for nearly eight months, Community Board 8 finally voted Nov. 13 against an application to amend a variance given to the Bukharian Jewish Congregation of Jamaica Estates, 32-1.

“The synagogue was seeking to get approval for a variance to certain things that they had done within their premises which were not otherwise permitted as per their plans in the original approvals,” Steven Konigsberg reminded the group.

The 80-14 Chevy Chase St. synagogue sought to modify its previously approved plans, which would legalize its already existing larger cellar assembly, accessory kitchen and brick wall, none of which were approved by the Board of Standards and Appeals in the building’s 2008 construction. Those illegal additions, as well as the installation of gas lines and the use of the kitchen for commercial catering, have resulted in various violations including over $90,000 in Department of Buildings fines and an $8,000 Environmental Control Board penalty for work without a permit.

The community board was set to vote on the issue in March, but a last-minute, six-month application withdrawal as well as a second postponement request in September moved the vote to last Wednesday. Falling short of a unanimous vote by one, 32 CB 8 members voted in opposition to the synagogue’s variance application.

“This is … the most blatant disrespect for the process of law,” said board member and Queens Civic Congress President Kevin Forrestal, “that they went ahead and asked for something, agreed with something and then immediately did something else. They basically violated what they agreed to do.”

Forrestal, a board member of close to 20 years, said this may have been the first time every Jewish member of the board voted against a Jewish organization.

Jagir Singh Bains was the only board member to vote in favor of the synagogue’s application, but did not express his reasoning and could not be reached for comment. Forrestal said Bains’ vote came as a surprise.

No representatives of the Bukharian Jewish Congregation were present for the vote despite being invited to petition for their case. “They knew the outcome,” said Forrestal.

In previous meetings, synagogue leaders argued that all additions were necessary for the growth of the congregation, and that the kitchen was being used for religious functions, not commercial use. Advertisements for catering by the synagogue brought in by community members disputed those claims and further fired opposition to the expansion. Increased traffic in the area was another complaint lodged against the congregation.

The issue next goes to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who will hear presentations from both sides before making the decision. Forrestal explains that, while the chance is slim, the issue could result in a lawsuit if the synagogue continues to push illegal activity, but there is always the possibility that it will withdraw its application again.

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