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Synagogue addition unsafe: CB 8

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A Fresh Meadows synagogue’s recent expansion should not be legalized by the city because it poses a danger to its inhabitants and the community, according to Community Board 8 members.

CB 8 representatives overwhelmingly denied a resolution that called for the city to approve construction they said was illegally done by Congregation Torath Haim Ohel Sara, at 144-11 77th Ave.

Community board members, who voted 33-1 against the resolution at their June 9 meeting, said the synagogue illegally expanded into a three-story-high building that nearly covers the entire lot and is now seeking a variance from the city to allow them to occupy what they have already built.

The city has slapped 26 violations on the site, including a full vacate order — to which residents said they have not adhered.

“There’s a little space between the houses on either side, and there’s practically no back or front yard,” said CB 8 member Patricia Dolan. “They’ve done basically everything they could to get everybody very upset.”

The attorney representing the congregation did not return requests for comment.

Residents said the synagogue began expanding its operation around September 2009, and CB 8 District Manager Marie Adam-Ovide said her office has been flooded with calls about the construction. Dolan said synagogue officials have mentioned they expect to have 200 or more people in the building, which the structure may not be able to hold.

“If something were to go wrong in that building and children were there, we could have a great tragedy on our hands,” Dolan said.

CB 8 representatives emphasized they had tried to work with the synagogue, and Dolan noted the area where the congregation is located has more than 60 synagogues.

“We’ve welcomed and supported every one of these buildings, but this became an issue of safety,” she said.

Following a meeting with CB 8 in April, synagogue officials said they would obtain independent, professional certification that the building meets all the requirements of the city building codes and is safe for the congregation.

Additionally, they said they would settle all pending violations and fines. Community Board 8 individuals said they would in return support the synagogue’s request for a variance.

But Adam-Ovide said representatives from the synagogue told them before last month’s CB 8 meeting that they had not been able to accomplish these measures, and the board pushed back its vote to June. When last week’s meeting came around, however, Adam-Ovide said the board had heard nothing from the synagogue.

“The one-family home they converted, that sort of thing is allowed and they could’ve gone to the [city] Department of Buildings and done what they were supposed to do,” Adam-Ovide said. “They could’ve gotten a variance to make it bigger, but they didn’t.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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