WOODSIDE — A church looking to build a bigger house of worship on Roosevelt Avenue is hoping to win over opponents of its expansion project by developing a public plaza with lights and a gazebo near 69th Street.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God's plan to demolish its building at 68-03 Roosevelt Ave. to build a bigger church on top of an adjacent parking lot facing 69th Street had some neighbors worried that the plan would mean increased traffic and less parking in the area.
Church officials told Community Board 2 members in September that they would be building a new 150-space parking garage next to the 7 train tracks on the same lot as the new building.
The garage would mostly be used by parishioners, but would open to the public on Saturdays, they said — but that wasn't enough to appease neighbors at the time.
The church returned to the board on Dec. 1, this time promising to build a plaza on top of the underground garage, with landscaping, lights and a gazebo.
"It's a really nice, open plaza with some lighting posts, and just changes the whole flavor of the project," said Nelson Canter, a lawyer for the Universal Church, which presented the updated plans to a packed meeting last Thursday.
Neighbors during the September meeting expressed worries that setting the new building further back from Roosevelt Avenue would create a vacant, darkened stretch where the new parking garage would be — prompting the church to add the plaza to the plan, according to Canter.
"The church is really reaching out to the community to hear their concerns and act upon them," he said.
A rendering of the church and public plaza, viewed from 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
The Universal Church, which was founded by a Brazilian billionaire in the 1970s and now has locations in more than 100 countries, is asking for a variance from the city's Board of Standards and Appeals to construct the new Woodside facility, which would serve as east coast headquarters for the organization.
The new building would be nearly double the height of the current one, from two stories to five, and would include a worship space that could fit nearly 1,000 people, as well as classrooms, a recording studio and 10 rectory apartments to house visiting clergy members, according to the plans.
Though the church's parking garage would be open to the public on Saturdays, some are still worried that a larger church would bring more traffic to the neighborhood and take needed parking spaces away from local businesses, many of them Filipino stores and restaurants in the commercial hub known as Little Manila.
The Filipino American Democratic Club of New York is petitioning against the project, saying construction — which is expected to take up to three years — will be a burden to the surrounding area.
"For two and half for three years we're expected to have this church not have their parking lot, while a massive construction project is going on, while also having their overcrowded services," said the group's president, Aries Dela Cruz.
He said the addition of the public plaza was a step in the right direction but still doesn't address concerns about the size of the new facility. The group is urging CB2 to vote against the plan's variance application.
"They have to decide whether this is a structure that belongs contextually in Woodside, or if it belongs somewhere else," he said.
The board will vote on the application at its next full board meeting Jan. 5, though its recommendation is only advisory. The city's Board of Standards and Appeals will make the final determination.