The Bukharian Community Center, a 10-year-old congregation in Jamaica Estates, began its application last year after it grew too large to continue leasing space from other temples nearby. With a congregation numbering about 400 and expected to grow, residents complained during the public comment portion of the meeting that on high holy days there would be no space to park because express bus commuters' cars already line the streets nearby.Speakers from the neighborhood who addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting became upset when they said members of the congregation frequently parked in front of driveways, blocking them in, held raucous parties that last late into the night, and stand to overtax the sewers if 400 more people come into the community, however frequently. Though they could not speak during the meeting, they made themselves heard in other ways.CB 8 member Howard Fried said the congregation agreed to valet parking, but added that there was nothing to worry about now because the site is vacant."One thing that should be clear is there is no activity at the site because there's nothing there," he said.The mention of valet parking prompted neighbors of the site to call out, "Where? In our neighborhood?"Zoning does not require parking for community facilities where the majority of users live within three-quarters of a mile and parking would not be a problem, said attorney Richard Lobell, who represents the congregation."Ninety-six percent of the congregation falls within a three-quarter mile radius" of the temple, he said. During the week, "for davening [prayer reciting] and minyan [a group that leads communal worship], people are expected to walk."The congregation approached CB 8 in February to seek a variance to allow the building size to exceed the existing zoning regulations. The zoning committee brought the matter to the full board at a meeting March 12, where it was voted down, 23 to 13.Laura Schwartzberg, who lives near the site, got up several times during the meeting to hold up her presentation opposing the temple, and board members told her to sit down or she would be kicked out.The plans call for a basement that extends almost to the property lines, plus the variance would permit two stories above ground that would make the building twice as big as the zoning allows, but create space for women to sit during services, according to plans CB 8's zoning committee reviewed."So without the variance, women can't attend?" CB 8 member Martha Taylor asked before the board voted on the petition.The lot at the corner of Chevy Chase Street and 80th Road would be the third temple site on the block, with Hillcrest Jewish Center behind it on Union Turnpike and Anshe Shalom under construction at the corner of 80th Road and Kent Street. Another temple is across Union Turnpike at 180th Street.After the meeting, one resident said the temples influence who chooses to move to the area, that when she moved into a neighborhood 34 years ago with people of all faiths and ethnicities, now the majority of newcomers are Jewish."I feel like I'm living in a ghetto. And I'm Jewish," she said.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodo
©2008 Community News Group
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