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Flushing church promises to improve Little Neck

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The combination of the quiet, rural atmosphere of Little Neck and its quick access to the city’s highways often attracts people to this corner of northeast Queens, where many say small town America still lives in the mom-and-pop shops of Northern Boulevard.

The qualities that have drawn residents from throughout Queens and the five boroughs for decades have also attracted immigrants and businesses over the years, changing the face of Northern Boulevard to one that now reflects an influx of Asians into the community.

Such has been the case with Flushing’s Eunhae Presbyterian Church, which for 10 years has called a large one-story building at 33-37 Farrington St. in Flushing its home.

With their Farrington Street lease set to expire at the end of the year, the Korean church officials went looking for a new home and found it in Little Neck on an oddly shaped lot sandwiched between residents and businesses on Northern Boulevard. The lot runs from 249th Street to Marathon Parkway and is adjacent to the Douglaston-Little Neck branch of the public library.

But the 20,000-square-foot, three-floor building with a 12-foot spire being built by the church and its architectural company, Diffendale & Kubec Architects of Staten Island, has raised eyebrows and objections among Little Neck residents and Community Board 11.

The five men representing Flushing’s Eunhae Presbyterian Church during an interview with the TimesLedger last week had difficulty understanding why those living near the construction site at the church’s new Little Neck facility would object.

Hyun Kim, a Bayside resident who helped found the church 13 years ago, wondered what other kind of business could have occupied the block, which was vacant for a number of years before the church signed a 50-year lease.

“They could build a tavern there,” he said.

Architect Wallace Kubec, who insisted all aspects of the project were in accordance with city zoning laws and codes, agreed.

“The parking lots could be full of tavern customers at 3 a.m.,” he said. Kubec called concerns about the planned 12-foot spire “a most unique complaint” and said the building would not be much taller than the neighboring homes.

Kubec said the construction was slated to end by next May. The architect said he did not expect a recent work stoppage by the city Buildings Department to have much impact on the overall project.

Both men claimed any negative impact from the church on the surrounding community would be minimal and emphasized the organization’s desire to work with its neighbors.

Church officials acknowledged, however, that they failed to sit down or reach out to area residents or the community board during the planning or before construction began. When asked if the new church would feature signs in both English and Korean, the men were initially silent but eventually said they would.

The Farrington Street location includes two large signs in Korean, with only the name of the church in English, and a small parking lot slightly overgrown with weeds.

The men were also quick to minimize the community’s fears and highlight the potential benefits they could provide.

Parking would be less of a problem than many assume, they said, because large groups of the roughly 400-member congregation would come in church buses or by public transportation when the church is in session Wednesday nights and Sundays.

The church plans to provide after-school programs, senior programs, English classes for elder Koreans, scholarships for nearby PS 94 and resources for the library next store, the officials said.

Parking would be available to the library and adjacent stores when not in use by the church, they said, and activity brought in by the house of worship would be a boon to local shops.

Samuel Yang, an assistant pastor at the church, acknowledged the exclusiveness of the Korean community, which has been one of the most frequently cited concerns about Korean groups throughout northeast Queens.

“Korean people are shy,” he said. “We want to host programs to show what Korean people are like and open programs to help people understand Korean culture.”

Yang and his colleagues also said the new church would be able to serve the growing Korean population in Little Neck and provide a safe cultural haven for those people.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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