The Mormon church and opponents of a chapel it wants to build in Flushing headed back to the city Board of Standards and Appeals Tuesday to give more testimony for the agency to digest before considering newly tweaked plans.
The church has again altered architectural plans for its chapel, this time getting the number of exceptions to the zoning laws it is seeking down to one — which remains the main source of contention with the community surrounding the plot at 145-13 33rd Ave.
The proposed church would have 75 percent more floor space than would normally be allowed by law, according to civic leaders and lawmakers opposed to the project.
Paul Graziano, a zoning expert from the neighborhood, civics and representatives of lawmakers, including state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), testified at the hearing in Manhattan. Many of the opponents said granting the church the variance for floor area would fly in the face of the 2009 North Flushing Rezoning, which sought to keep the residential character of the neighborhood.
But members of the church argued that the opponents were misinterpreting the zoning laws and that the proposed floor area meets requirements. Representatives from the church further contended that the current proposal would look nearly the same as a building they could build within the zoning laws.
“The church could essentially build an identical building as-of-right — with no visible differences from the outside — if it were to omit the second story inside,” said lawyer Daniel Braff in written testimony to the BSA.
But Graziano said the revised building would still be more than one story taller than the as-of-right version.
The church conducted a study of what it called its programmatic needs to determine the number of Bible study classrooms that it is required to have, which accounts for the large floor area it is requesting. The church also contends that the BSA is not in the business of determining what are the needs as opposed to the wants of a particular religion’s place of worship.
But Graziano said the Mormons’ own handbook on building chapels shows the requirement for the number of Bible study rooms is not completely rigid.
“The amendments are extremely minor and self-serving, and today we showed that this building is not being built by programmatic needs,” Graziano said.
“The fact is they can combine classrooms and they are refusing to acknowledge they can do this,” he said as one example of why he and the civics hope the BSA will deny the variance, although they are not optimistic.
The BSA closed the public hearings, but residents can still submit comments for three more weeks while the board mulls over the application.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community News Group
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