EAST HARLEM — The Church of Scientology wants to celebrate the grand opening of its house of worship and community center with a massive block party on Sept. 19 at 125th Street between Second and Third avenues — but it hasn't received approval from locals concerned about traffic.
It has become a custom for Scientology to host large parties when unveiling new churches around the world. More than 2,500 are expected to attend Harlem’s opening, said Pastor Verlene Cheeseboro.
“It is going to be a wonderful celebration,” said Cheeseboro, who has attended seven church openings around the country. “People from all over the world are going to come to 125th Street."
The board voted twice — in one instance received 16 yes votes, 14 no votes and four abstentions — but could not muster enough yes votes to approve to partial closure. As a result the board has no position on the issue and will let the city decide, Chair Matthew Washington said.
The main concern, according to community board members, was how partial closures would affect the traffic flow in on 125th Street. The closures would include the parking lane and bus lane on the south side of the thoroughfare for about three hours.
When the Church of Scientology met the Board’s License and Permits Committee on July 20, the committee felt that the partial closure would disrupt traffic on 125th Street and suggested alternative locations, said James Garcia.
“The committee is definitely supportive of the church and all faith based groups in East Harlem, our main concern is the traffic flow,” he said.
Garcia, who chairs the committee, voted in favor of the event after hearing the DOT was ok with it.
During Tuesday’s meeting, church members and supporters touted their community outreach programs, including anti-drug work and free tutoring when asking to approve the partial street closure.
“I think the short term inconvenience of an event or celebration of what they are going to bring to the community is going to be outweighed by the long-term benefits,” Harrington said.
The church also had the support from the 25th Precinct and the Department of Transportation.
“We are ok with it as long as the community is ok with it,” Community Affairs Officer Rivera said. “We can police it. We understand what 125th Street is but it’s three hours. We can do it.”
Board Chair Washington told the board that he had spoken with DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione about the event and she was fine with is because it was not a full closure and it would not take place during high traffic times.
The DOT did not immediately reply to questions about the commissioners’ statements.
Pastor Cheeseboro remained hopeful that the block party on 125th Street will happen.
“I can’t say I’m happy about the decision but when you need something, somehow He finds a way to make it happen,” she said. “Some good will come from our dedication, we will keep moving forward.”