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Plan for 5-Story Church in Woodside Sparks Worries Over Parking

By Jeanmarie Evelly | September 29, 2016 6:12pm | Updated on September 30, 2016 5:05pm
 A model of the proposed new Universal Church planned for 68-03 Roosevelt Ave.
A model of the proposed new Universal Church planned for 68-03 Roosevelt Ave.
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WOODSIDE — Locals are bristling over a church's plan to build a 5-story house of worship on Roosevelt Avenue, saying the project is too large and would end up taking over parking in the Filipino commercial hub known as Little Manila.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, part of an international organization with roots in Brazil and locations in more than 100 countries, has applied for a city variance to build a new complex to replace its existing church at 68-03 Roosevelt Ave. at 69th Street.

The new facility is designed to serve as the "east coast headquarters" for the church and would be set back from Roosevelt Avenue on what's now a parking lot, according to Nelson Canter, an attorney for the developer.

The parking lot will be replaced by a new parking structure for its congregants with space for 150 cars next to the elevated 7 train line where the church's current building stands, he said.

The church itself would stand 79 feet tall — nearly double the height of its current building, which is 40 feet tall at its highest point — and would include 10 rectory units to house visiting clergy, a recording studio and classrooms, Canter said.

"The only thing they really want to do is have a better facility," Canter said, adding that the owners want to move the church further away from the tracks to buffer some of the train noise. "We're trying to make the most effective use of the lot's space."

But local leaders criticized the project as being too big and out of context with the surrounding area, which is mostly made up of one or two-story businesses — many of them Filipino stores and restaurants — along Roosevelt Avenue.

"Really the infrastructure aspect is one of the biggest concerns of the community," said Aries Dela Cruz, head of the Filipino American Democratic Club of New York, which is organizing in opposition to the project.

Universal Church

They're worried that a larger facility would mean more church-goers, making it harder to find parking nearby, something local businesses rely on. Many customers who come to Little Manila to shop drive there from other neighborhoods or other states, according to Cruz.

"We just don’t think the community can handle an expansion of the church," he said.

They're also concerned about possible disruptions caused by construction of the new building, which the church says would take about three years to complete.

"It'll be painful, and a lot of these small businesses are already on small margins," Cruz said.

But Canter argues that the project is more of an upgrade for the church than an expansion. The new facility would be able to hold about 996 parishioners at a time, compared to about 700 people that attend its Sunday service now, he said.

"Most people take buses, trains, or live in the area," he said, in response to concerns about parking.

The church has been operating at its Roosevelt Avenue location for about 20 years, according to Canter.

The Universal Church was founded in the late 1970s in Brazil, and has since expanded to more than 20 U.S. states and 100 countries, according to its website.

The organization's founder, Edir Macedo, is a billionaire and Brazilian media mogul who believes in "prosperity theology," or the belief that the faithful are rewarded with wealth, according to Forbes.

Community Board 2 held a public hearing about the church project earlier this week. It was not clear when the board plans to vote on the developer's application, and CB2 did not immediately return calls for comment.