Mormon Church going before BSA

State Sen. Tony Avella (r.) is joined by civic leaders and Flushing residents to denounce plans for a Mormon chapel on 33rd Avenue that would violate zoning laws and is being considered by the city. Photo by Joe Anuta
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Flushing civics and lawmakers want the city Board of Standards and Appeals to deny plans for a Mormon church that exceeds zoning regulations, but the agency recently gave a green light to a similar application in southern Queens.

Civic leaders and a state senator turned out to show their disapproval of plans for a house of worship that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wants to build at 145-13 33rd Ave.

“Why in God’s name are we even considering this?” asked state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), standing outside of the empty lot where the LDS church submitted plans to build a two-story church with a 95-foot steeple that seeks to double the maximum allowable floor space.

“The community board has already voted against it. The borough president voted against it. We’re here to send a message to the BSA,” he said.

But the BSA has not listened in the past.

On Feb. 28, the board approved a variance in Far Rockway for a yeshiva in a residentially zoned district similar to the area of Flushing where the LDS chapel is proposed.

CB 14 recommended to deny a version of the application that was changed slightly before getting to the board, as did Borough President Helen Marshall, who said the application would be out of scale with the character of the surrounding neighborhood, according to the BSA decision.

The application for a three-story yeshiva and dormitory — just like the LDS chapel application — sought to double the allowable floor-to-area ratio.

The BSA granted multiple variances, in part, based on the yeshiva’s “programmatic needs.”

The Mormon Church said its programmatic needs require a second floor inside the church.

At last week’s rally, civic leaders, including Bayside Hills Civic Association President Michael Feiner, also blasted the BSA for granting a variance in October that allowed the owner of a subdivided lot along 51st Avenue to build a house that did not have ample yard space.

In a subsequent interview, Avella said the agency often ignores community opinions with impunity since no one oversees the five members of the board.

“They have gone beyond their mission and undermined the zoning code of the city of New York,” he said.

Instead of relief from the zoning code to allow developers to build on unusual lots where construction might otherwise not take place, the board has turned into a body that grants variances to developers who simply want to build outside of the zoning code, according to Avella, who called Queens a “developer’s paradise.”

He referred to a 2005 study by the Municipal Art Society of New York, a nonprofit that promotes its vision of equitable city planning, which showed that the BSA granted 97 percent of variances.

The BSA used to be overseen by the city Board of Estimates, which was made up of elected officials, including the borough presidents and the mayor, Avella said — people who could be voted out.

But the current BSA is staffed by five mayoral appointees.

Avella has proposed legislation in the past to create an oversight committee that could more easily challenge its decision, and after the Bayside Hills decision City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) proposed two bills that would give communities more say in BSA decisions.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 12:57 am, March 15, 2012
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