BY LYNN EDMONDS
The construction of a three-story mosque at 46-05 Parsons Blvd. would create logistical problems for neighbors if the Board of Standards and Appeals approved is application, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and local residents from Community Board 7, the Kissena Park Civic Association, the Auburndale Improvement Association and the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association said at a rally on Saturday in front of the site.
The protesters urged the Board of Standards and Appeals not to approve variances for the proposed house of worship ahead of the public hearing on Tuesday.
CB 7 and Borough President Melinda Katz also advised the BSA not to grant the appeals in their official recommendation.
“We came to conclusion that this is totally unreasonable,” Tyler Cassell, a CB 7 member who attended the rally, said. “We’ve never seen one come to us and ask us for complete forgiveness of parking. They’re supposed to have 21 parking spaces here and they want complete forgiveness for the parking. So we’ve never seen that, and there’s no precedent for that at the community board as far as I know.”
The religious organization Masjid-E-Noor is seeking waivers of floor area ratio, sky exposure plane, side yards and parking for the property, located in an R2 district.
To be granted variances, houses of worship must prove that they have a programmatic need for the type of construction that is being requested. For instance, because Islam calls for women and men to pray separately, having two separate prayer spaces and two separate entrances is considered a programmatic need.
There is also a federal law that says zoning cannot infringe on religious freedom.
But Kevin Forrestal, from Queens Civic Congress, argued that law would not apply in this case.
“There is federal law that says you can’t use zoning to infringe religious freedom. This is not that situation. No one is infringing on religion. There are alternatives that would better serve that group,” he said.
Cassell, as well as others, also stressed that the community’s opposition to the site was strictly to do with the specs of the building itself and not reflective of any Islamophobia in the community.
“We’re not looking at this as a religious issue. We’re looking at this as a building issue. Our complaints are about the building,” he said.
A representative from the Muslim Community in Queens, Mazeda Uddin, initially did express concern about the Muslim community being treated fairly. Uddin is not affiliated with the Masjid-E-Noor.
“My concern is that if this side has a church, why can’t you have a Mosque?” Uddin said, pointing to the church across the street from the proposed Mosque site.
Uddin added, however, that she understood concerns about the site’s size, and thought a compromise could be reached.
“If we want to make a relationship each other, then we’ll have to work together to solve that problem,” she said.
She added that working together was especially important with recent incidences of hate crimes against Muslims, including herself.
“You know the other day someone threw a rock in my car because I’m wearing Hijab. This is not the country we are living in now. We want peace. Thank you Tony Avella, thank you all of them, just give us peace, give us space, so that we can do our worship,” she said.
Avella and other speakers said that they wished to work together with members of the mosque to find another location or another solution, but that as the application stood, they strongly opposed it.
“To continue to move ahead on a piece of property that is simply not appropriate, that will not only [not] fit their needs but cause a huge nightmare for the surrounding community, of which their congregants live in, is just simply wrong,” Avella said. “So we’re here today to say to them once again, come back to us, lets sit down and come up with a more appropriate site.”
Joe Amoroso, Zoning Chairman for the Kissena Park Civic Association, said the proposed zoning variances just went too far.
“These variances that they’re asking for are so beyond what is considered reasonable that they should all be turned down,” he said.
Beverly McDermott, President of the Kissena Park Civic Association, said her concern was about the traffic.
“This is an overcrowded, really unusual corner,” McDermott said.
She added that she wanted to know whether the new owners had received a “buyers beware” that there was a good chance that they would not be able to build on the property.
The property, which had once been a real estate office, had been bought by dentists Shilpa and Rushi Trivedi, who intended to tear down the current building and replace it with a larger one.
When the area was rezoned to R2 in 2004, they were blocked from doing so.
“If a dental office, which was a smaller building, and less intensive use for this site, was turned down by the BSA, it’s hard for me to imagine a building that would have multiple ratio of use from that dental office to be approved,” Paul Graziano, an Urban planner and lifelong North Flushing resident, said.
Residents at that time said allowing it would create a bad precedent, according to the Daily News.
Something that Henry Euler, first Vice President of the Auburndale Civic Association, said was still a concern.
“We feel that if the variances are granted, that this will set a very bad precedent and we’ll have this problem cropping up in many neighborhoods in Northeast Queens,” he said.
Masjid-E-Noor’s attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana