Some In Jamaica Estates Fight Synagogue Expansion
An application by Young Israel of Jamaica Estates for five variances that would allow the synagogue to tear down its nursery school building and extend its main building was recommended for approval at the October meeting of Community Board 8 by 33 affirmative votes. At land use hearings in Borough Hall last week, however, opponents of the proposal were vehement in their opposition to the application and in expressing their unhappiness with the way Board 8 conducted hearings on the matter and at what they maintain is a lack of any notification about the issue.
Among the complaints voiced by opponents of the synagogue’s plan to enlarge the existing two-story synagogue, contrary to maximum allowable floor area, lot coverage, building height and rear and side yard requirements, was that the synagogue frequently holds weddings and similar events. The neighborhood surrounding the synagogue is residential and homeowners at the hearings complained that the parking situation in the area is untenable now.
Unable to attend the hearings, Linda Gordon told Borough President Helen Marshall in a letter that she lives four houses north of the synagogue. "I have come home many evenings to find every inch of street parking taken up by hundreds of cars belonging to people who have traveled to partake in either a wedding or some other affair. If Young Israel expands, it will only bring more congestion and noise to a formerly quiet neighborhood," Gordon wrote.
Other issues raised by the proposed expansion include noise from the building air conditioning units, claims of improper trash disposal and refuse and litter on sidewalks which occasionally interferes with area residents attempting to use the bus stop in front of the building. In addition, "[Young Israel has] never once taken the initiative to make their grounds attractive," Gordon’s letter continued. "They have never done any landscaping and their building is a major eyesore."
Testimony at the hearings corroborated Gordon’s letter. "We can’t get out of our driveways," one resident declared. Shirl Bashore, another area resident, noted that the synagogue puts out trash bags, which are ripped open by scavengers and the resulting mess left behind. Robert Harris, president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association and a member of Board 8, said that the board did not provide its members with the proper information to make a decision that reflected the best interests of the community.
Jordon Most of Sheldon Lobel P.C. testified for Young Israel. He noted that a variance to construct the synagogue had first been granted in 1985 and the building constructed in 1986. The growing number of families in the congregation now make the proposed renovation and construction necessary. Plans for the new construction include a modern addition on an adjacent lot, assigned lot number 39, and in the side yard of lot number 35 between the synagogue and lot 39, creating one integrated facility, creating an aggregate frontage of 140 feet on 188th Street. The new building will be five feet higher than the present 29 feet from the mean curb elevation to the high point visible from the street. City Councilmembers David Weprin and James Gennaro testified in favor of the addition to the synagogue at the Board 8 zoning committee hearing, it was noted.