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Grace takes expansion plan to city

Grace representatives, after facing rejection from Community Board 11 and Borough President Helen Marshall last year as well as disapproval from state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), took the application to expand their current facility to the last agency that can permit the construction. If the Board of Standards and Appeals votes down the application in a decision expected June 7, the church's last resort is to file in Appellate Court.The church filed an application last May to renovate the current 11,538-square-foot building at 216-50-56 28th Ave., adding 16,214 more square feet and an additional 844 seats in new chapels, classrooms and other rooms in order to accommodate the church's 500-member congregation, which church leaders say is outgrowing the existing space.While the community has opposed the plan based on traffic, parking, congestion and infrastructural concerns, church representatives reminded the board Tuesday that their application is only to allow Grace to build on the bed of Little Neck Boulevard, a mapped and closed private street that runs through the property. The existing church is housed in the former Bayside Yacht Club, which was built onto the street, according to plans filed with the city."The building that's being proposed will comply with zoning in all respects," said Sheldon Lobel, the church's lawyer, at the hearing. As a community facility, the church is exempt from residential zoning laws, including the strict regulations set forth in the recent rezoning of Bayside.Neighborhood opponents said that with gas and electric lines already overburdened in the area, keeping the municipal service lines under the boulevard available for updates was essential."It's vital that the street be kept open for the interests of the neighborhood," said Dr. Blanche Felton, president of the John Golden Park Block Association. "This street, Little Neck Boulevard, has been considered by the city for various improvement projects."But board Commissioner Joel A. Miele informed the residents that the application has already been vetted by the city's Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Fire Department, and each agency has indicated it has no plans to utilize the street."(The city) wouldn't come to that section of 28th Avenue" to update services, Miele said. He said the city would instead work with alternate infrastructure located on 28th Road and the north side of 28th Avenue.Grace Church's deacon, Joo Won Chin, said building on the mapped street bed was actually better for residents."It is in the best interests of the community that there is no street in this area," he said. "It will only increase the traffic."And, Chin added, the neighborhood would look better with the renovation."It's better to show a brand new facility than an aging building that's 80 years old and with an empty swimming pool," he said.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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