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Korean church envisioned as open to all: Pastor

"The vision is not closed and exclusive," he said in an interview Friday through a translator, Associate Pastor Bo Kang Kim. "We have a long-term vision to open the church to the community of Christians, though this began as a Korean church."

With that mandate, Kuk Kim said his church's controversial 28,000-square-foot proposed addition would bring classrooms, offices and sanctuaries to the existing facilities at the former Bayside Yacht Club and would benefit not just his own congregation but the entire community.

"As a member of the community, this church and the new facilities will have lots of things for the community," Kuk Kim said. He cited several civic organizations that use the church for meeting space. "The new facility would serve them better."

The church, which has been at 216-30-56 28th Ave. since August 1994, has 350 members who attend the numerous services and Sunday school programs, Kuk Kim said. According to the church's May 27 application for a building variance, the addition would be built on top of the former club's swimming pool and would serve 650 parishioners.

There are, however, several roadblocks to the construction. Although Kuk Kim said he never received an official denial of the church's building application to the city Department of Buildings, DOB spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said the application was turned down in April. In addition, the church is on a parcel of land that a closed section of Little Neck Boulevard runs through, and the church has applied to the city Board of Standards and Appeals for a variance to be able to build on the lot.

Perhaps most significantly, the plan faces enormous community opposition.

At a special meeting of the East Bayside Homeowners Association on July 13, community members complained that the addition would clog area streets with traffic and make parking more difficult. "I live a mile away and I think it will be a neighborhood catastrophe if hundreds of cars come through," EBHA President Frank Skala said at the meeting. Some were concerned that the proposed two-story extension, to be built on an old swimming pool, would violate zoning regulations in the mostly residential neighborhood. The area is currently an R-2 zone, which allows for single-family detached homes at low densities, and community facilities "which serve the residents of these districts or are benefitted by an open residential environment," according to the City Planning Commission Web site.

"This church building complies in all respects with zoning," said Sheldon Lobel, the church's lawyer. Moreover, the city has reassured the church that the closed part of Little Neck Boulevard should not be a concern, Lobel said. "We reached out to the DOT (Department of Transportation) and they said the street would never be opened."

He added, "If people can live in a residential zone, so can God."

Responding to community complaints that the church was unwilling to speak with concerned residents, Lobel's associate, Jon Popin said "we're willing to talk to all parties. There is no hiding on our part."

On Aug. 10, Community Board 11's Zoning Commission will meet with the church to go over the zoning concerns, and there will be a public hearing at the CB 11 meeting on Sept. 7. Kuk Kim hopes that by then, the community will understand the church's position and need for growth.

"It's the belief of Koreans that to have one church is better than 10 police stations," Kuk Kim said, adding that while he appreciated the police's efforts, "we believe the presence of the church will be a positive influence on the community."

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com.

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