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Controversial Woodside Church Expansion Shot Down by Queens Community Board

By Jeanmarie Evelly | February 3, 2017 5:00pm | Updated on February 6, 2017 8:25am
 A rendering of the church and public plaza, viewed from 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
A rendering of the church and public plaza, viewed from 69th Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
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WOODSIDE — Queens Community Board 2 shot down a church's controversial plan to tear down its current building on Roosevelt Avenue to build a new 5-story structure in its place — saying the church failed to justify its need to build taller than current zoning at the site allows.

The Universal Church of God, a non-denominational church that's operated for 20 years at 68-03 Roosevelt Ave., applied for city variances to construct the new building, which would measure 79 feet at its tallest point on a site that allows a maximum height of 40 feet.

CB2 voted unanimously Thursday night to recommend against the church's application, saying they were opposed to the design, which would place the new building set back from Roosevelt Avenue on part of the property that's now a parking lot, which is closer to residential homes.

The church's current building sits directly along Roosevelt Avenue, a largely commercial stretch.

"We're opposing having the greater density adjacent to the residential neighborhood," said CB2 Land Use Committee Chair Lisa Deller.

She noted that the church could construct a building under current zoning rules that would bigger, in terms of square footage, but not as tall.

"They can build 125,000 square feet of floor area — they can build a much larger building, but it needs to be lower," she said, saying that the church had been unwilling to alter their designs during months of discussions with the CB2 members.

The board's vote came at the end of a long and contentious meeting at the Sunnyside Community Center, which was packed with both supporters and opponents of the plan, so much so that some people were initially turned away because of overcrowding.

Those who spoke in favor of project were mainly members of the Universal Church who praised the church for improving their lives for the better and said that it needs a new building to accommodate its growing congregation.

"We're not asking for the whole block, we're not asking for the whole neighborhood," said Giovanni Pacheco, a pastor. "We're asking for your help so we can make this community better."

The proposed new building would include 10 rectory units to house visiting clergy, a recording studio and classrooms, as well as a 150-car underground parking garage that would be open for neighborhood residents to use on Saturdays.

To appease critics, the church altered its plans in December to include a public park space in the project that would have lights, plants and a gazebo.

"What we tried to do is accommodate all of the community’s concerns and balance that with the programmatic needs of the church," said Nelson Canter, an attorney for the church.

But the plan had a number of opponents who worried how the project would impact the surrounding neighborhood, which includes Little Manila, a commercial hub of Filipino shops and restaurants.

Critics worried that a larger church would take parking spots away from local businesses and that the three-year construction of the new building would be a disrupting to neighbors.

Others feared it would open a wave of new construction to the neighborhood and displace existing residents and businesses.

"We see it as a deeper issue and a pattern that has been happening all over New York City," said Christine Fabro, a member of the Coalition to Defend Woodside and Little Manila.

She said that while big new developments "look pretty" they attract other developers who see it and are "encouraged to build more things."

"What ends up happening is that people who are originally from these communities — and this one in particular in Woodside is a primarily immigrant and working class community — will eventually get pushed out because rents will rise," she said.

While CB2 voted against the plan, their recommendation is only advisory. The Board of Standards and Appeals will make a final determination on the project.