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Candidates debate zoning rules in Doug, Bayside

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U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) told a meeting of the Douglaston Civic Association Tuesday that a 2000 federal law prohibiting extensive land use restrictions on houses of worship must be examined in the courts.

With a movement afoot among Queens’ civic groups to update the city’s 1961 zoning resolution to regulate the building of houses of worship and other community facilities in residential areas, the topic was a priority at the Douglaston meeting at St. Anastasia’s Church.

Ackerman was one of several northeast Queens candidates attending the Douglaston candidate’s night and a similar event held by the East Bayside Homeowners Association at All Saints Church in Bayside, where quality-of-life issues topped the agenda.

The congressman told Douglaston residents the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, was meant to prevent discrimination against religious groups, not burden communities. Community facilities such as houses of worship, schools and medical offices can build in many areas of the city without restrictions such as parking.

“This is something that has to be tested in the court as to what it means,” Ackerman said when asked if he would favor repealing the land use portions of the RLUIPA law. “There has been not one case that’s tested that law.”

Ackerman was joined in Bayside by his opponent, Conservative candidate Perry Reich of Hollis Hills, and state Assembly candidates John Ottulich, a Republican from Douglaston, and incumbent state Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside). State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) spoke at the Douglaston event as did his challenger, Republican Stacey Kaplan-Vila. State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) attended both events, as did Ottulich and Carrozza.

In Bayside, Ackerman fielded questions about his decision to support President George W. Bush’s move to use force against Iraq.

“I believe even if you are a pacifist you have a right to defend yourself,” the congressman said when asked why he choose to vote yes on the president’s resolution.

Ackerman’s opponent, Reich, said the area’s next congressman would face issues ranging from homeland security and the question of a national ID card as well as the viability of the Social Security system.

“These are issues that are going to come to the forefront,” he said.

Ottulich, a first-time candidate for state Assembly, described himself as a businessman who could bring economic sensibility and political independence to Albany.

“I can be effective by being independent within the Legislature,” he said. “I’m not someone who goes along to get along.”

Carrozza, who has represented parts of northeast Queens in the Assembly for six years, defended her work in state office as “above partisan politics” and told voters in Bayside and Douglaston a new term would help her do more for the area.

“I work for the people in this community and I’m able to use my newfound seniority to get aid for local groups,” she said.

Weprin, who is running for his fifth term in the state Assembly representing portions of eastern Queens, said quality-of-life issues such as school funding and the economic health of the city and state would be key in the next few years.

While the regulation of community facilities in the city is not a state issue, Weprin and his challenger, Kaplan-Vila said they were in favor of revisions to the city’s zoning laws.

“I think it’s unfair on a block of single-family homes for someone to build a church or a synagogue,” Weprin said.

Padavan, an engineer and former deputy commissioner of the city Buildings Department, also weighed in on the community facilities debate. Padavan is running unopposed in this year’s elections.

“They’re using it as an excuse,” Padavan said of the federal RLUIPA law cited as a stumbling block to changing the city’s zoning laws. Certain kinds of community facilities, he said, “should have accessory parking as a requirement.”

Padavan and Ackerman suggested the development of a voluntary siting board to deal with community facilities on a local level.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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