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A few weeks ago, I attended an event at the Gurdwara Sant Sagar, a Sikh house of worship in Bellerose. The event was organized by the Creedmoor Civic Association for community residents to learn more about the gurdwara and the Sikh community.
Michael O’Keeffe, president of the Creedmoor Civic Association, and Frank Toner, president of the Rocky Hill Civic Association, were on hand with others to meet their Sikh neighbors and discuss community issues. Many non-South Asian New Yorkers often confuse religions from that region of the world, mistakenly thinking that those who wear turbans as a singular religion.
There are distinct differences in the religious practices of Muslims and Sikhs. Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, dating back to the 15th century. It was founded on principles of religious liberty and equality for all. The sword and turban symbolize such virtues as honor and courage and were intended to identify Sikh men ready to protect the religious freedoms of those who faced persecution.
Those principles of religious liberty and equality were enshrined in our own Constitution centuries later.
During the question-and-answer session, the subject of the Indian Cultural and Community Center plan to construct two nine-story towers at the Creedmoor site arose. It is clear that many members of the South Asian community in eastern Queens oppose this high-rise, high-density project for the same reasons neighboring civic associations do.
The size and scope of the proposed buildings are out of character with the surrounding neighborhoods and poised to jeopardize the low-density residential community that would sit in its shadow. Support among all civics is widespread for an Indian cultural center as well as the need for senior housing.
But the civics rightfully insist that any new construction project respect the characteristics of the surrounding neighborhoods and that the same standards applied elsewhere are not compromised here. The preservation of single-family housing is shared among all families and transcends cultural boundaries.
Unfortunately, the ICCC has written letters to the local press and made statements that cleverly but transparently attempt to draw the civics into a racial/ethnic battle where none exists. The attempt to use this issue as a wedge, dividing communities by portraying the civics at odds with the South Asian community, has no merit and is fabrication.
Serious community issues such as residential housing and commercial construction and their impact on local neighborhoods must not be manipulated in an effort to pit one segment of the community against another. The nine-story Twin Towers project should be judged solely on its merits.
As it is currently conceived, it fails at its basic core. The size and scope remain out of sync with the surrounding residential community. The plan, which years ago started off as a one-story community center, has morphed into a two, nine-story, high-rise residential development that violates current zoning regulations.
Civics are ready and willing to work with any group to devise a plan that fulfills both the objectives of senior housing and the need for an Indian cultural center, but respect for local zoning and the objections of neighborhood residents must not be ignored.
Bob Friedrich is president of the Glen Oaks Village Co-op and a Queens civic leader.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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