Bay People lose numbers game

The frame of the controversial Sheepshead Bay mosque, now under construction, peeks above the fence on Voorhies Avenue between E. 28th and E. 29th streets.
Photo by Alice Proujansky

The city has rejected another attempt to halt the construction of a controversial Sheepshead Bay mosque even though opponents — and the city — say developers have distorted the number of people who will attend services there.

On Tuesday, Meenakshi Srinivasan of the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, which rules on zoning matters, denied an 11th-hour application to kill the Voorhies Avenue project, which opponents, led by the group Bay People, say is being built under false pretenses — even though she agreed mosque developers are being deceptive about how many people will show up for services.

Opponents claim that the city doesn’t really know how many people will be coming to the mosque because it is only counting the people who will fill the main sanctuary — a space where only male worshippers will pray. Female congregants will also be coming to services, but worship in a different room — one that isn’t being counted by the city — said Bay People attorney Howard Goldman.

“The division of a sanctuary into a ‘main prayer room’ and a ‘secondary prayer room’ and the exclusion of the secondary prayer room from the parking calculations is contrary to the intent of the Zoning Resolution,” Goldman told the Board of Standards and Appeals, during a Nov. 1 hearing, claiming that if all of the worshippers coming to the house of worship were counted, developers would have had to provide on-site parking. “By excluding the population of the secondary room, it results in an undercount of the number of people and cars coming to religious services.”

City law says a house of worship does not have to provide on-site parking if its management can prove congregants would use less than 10 cars to come to services. But the decades-old law only requires that the occupancy of the main sanctuary be used in determining how many parking spaces are needed.

At the hearing, Srinivasan recommended that if the Bay People wanted both sanctuaries to be counted, it should have the law changed.

Undeterred members of Bay People say they’re going to go back to court.

“We are going to file a lawsuit against the city,” a Bay People spokesman told this paper on Monday.

Opponents say that traffic and parking are their driving concerns in demanding that the mosque close, but the tenor of their rallies over the last year has been more anti-Islamic rather than anti-congestion, with neighborhood protestors and Brooklyn Tea Party members waving signs reading, “Islam not welcome here,” “New York is not Islamabad” and “Do not forget 9-11!”

One resident even claimed he was going to “blow up the mosque” if it was built.

Despite its repeated legal losses, the Bay People have already had some success in halting the project’s completion, and the building is moving ahead at a snail’s pace: only the foundation and basement have been built.

Reach reporter Thomas Tracy at ttracy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2525.

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