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Yeshivas: We need elbow room

There are simply more children than there is physical space. That is the claim being made by two religious groups, both seeking permission to build new yeshivas in Brooklyn. Both organizations say they have outgrown their existing digs, resulting in crowded classrooms and long waiting lists. The Rachmistrivka congregation of Borough Park hopes to construct a new boys’ elementary school at 50 Lawrence Avenue. Meanwhile, Tammy and Jacob Fetman of Mercaz Inc. want to open a new nursery school, day care facility and synagogue at 1739 Ocean Avenue. Attorneys for both applicants outlined the plans at a Community Board 14 public hearing on February 7. Both groups are seeking a variance, which is special permission to sidestep the city’s zoning laws. This would pave the way for construction. “It’s cramped and it’s crowded,” Rachmistrivka’s attorney Richard Lobel told CB 14, explaining the congregation’s desire to leave their existing facilities at 1460 56th Street. Because of growing demand, administrators want to relocate their Talmud Torah Ohel Yochanan school from its current location on 56th Street, and construct a brand-new building about one mile east on Lawrence Avenue. The proposed six-story, 43,200-square-foot facility would include about 30 classrooms and an outdoor terrace. A vacant single-story manufacturing facility currently occupies the property. Attorney Richard Lobel said the congregation has engaged in community outreach. “He wanted to keep peace with the neighbors,” Lobel said, referring to Grand Rabbi Ch. Y. Twerksy’s desire to minimize traffic, noise and garbage issues. To mitigate these potential problems, Rachmistrivka has chosen not to include a commercial catering hall on the premises. Additionally, school buses will be required to park on nearby McDonald Avenue, so as not to create congestion on Lawrence Avenue. Rabbi Moshe K. Kramer, the project’s Executive Director, said the new school could accommodate up to 300 students. At the public hearing, a handful of neighbors aired concerns over bus traffic, while others worried the few available street parking spaces would be swallowed up by school personnel and parents. These concerns were echoed by resident David Orlander, who lives behind the site earmarked for the yeshiva. Nonetheless, Orlander voiced his support. “I think we should allow this, even thought I’ll suffer more than anyone else,” Orlander said. “This is good for the community. This is part of progress.” City Councilmember Simcha Felder also spoke in support of the project. “There is no place that’s perfect for a school,” Felder said. “I would beg you to approve this,” Felder told community board members. Board members present at the public hearing reached a consensus in favor of the variance. The entire board was scheduled to vote at its regular meeting on February 12. But after the February 7 public hearing, board members did not grant that same approval to the proposal for 1739 Ocean Avenue. Attorney Eric Palatnik outlined the plans of his clients, Tammy and Jacob Fetman of the religious non-profit Mercaz Inc., to create a nursery, pre-nursery, day-care facility and accessory synagogue. “They’re very anxious to build their dream,” Palatnik said. “The idea is to build something that will become a neighborhood icon.” Palatnik said the Fetmans currently run a small operation from their home, but “have a waiting list of over 100 children.” In order to expand, the Fetmans have purchased a block of property next door to their home, and seek to build a new three-story, 10,000-square-foot structure. Again, a small number of residents cited traffic, parking and garbage concerns at the public hearing, while others questioned the need for another house of worship, saying there was already a surplus of nearby synagogues. “I’m going to have a dark backyard,” said David Teichman, who lives directly behind the proposed facility. Teichman went on to assert that the “dramatic growth is not quite as it is being represented.” Teichman stated that the proposed structure was “out of character” with other buildings on the block. “This size is just not appropriate,” Teichman’s wife, Chana, later declared before board members. Palatnik acknowledged that his clients were still negotiating with neighbors over final design plans, including determining how far the new building will extend in the near. Because of outstanding issues, board members decided against the variance, citing a reluctance to sign off on a project that is still the subject of negotiations. While the community board will issue a recommendation on each application, the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals has the authority to make the final decisions.

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