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CB18 approves variance for synagogue expansion

CB18 gives synagogue support as it tries to raise its roof by three stories

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A Nostrand Avenue synagogue and education center got the go-ahead for its plans to add three additional stories to its building from Community Board 18 on Wednesday night, despite the impassioned pleas of nearby residents and a recommendation from Marine Park Civic Association to oppose the synagogue’s expansion.

“I’m very disappoint­ed,” said Marine Parkway resident Jose Salce, who lives directly behind the expanding religious center. “Since we got there, it looked like everybody had already made up their mind.”

The synagogue, Yeshiva Ohr Yisroel, sits between Madison Place and Marine Parkway and is currently seeking variances through the Board of Standards and Appeals that would allow it to build up its facility from two stories to five, and expand its existing floor area from 4,228 square feet to 27,200 square feet.

The third- and fourth-floor expansions will be used as classroom space for roughly 80 students attending grades nine through 12, and the fifth floor will be used as gym and recreation space.

Proponents argue that the synagogue is currently bursting at the seams, and that Nostrand Avenue is already littered with businesses and large apartment buildings, including one directly across the street that, at seven stories, would still dwarf the religious center’s planned expansion.

“This facility happens to be on Nostrand Avenue, where there’s several six or seven story apartment buildings,” said Judah Lieberman, who has a son attending ninth-grade classes at another nearby building affiliated with the synagogue. “Given the large buildings on the other side of the street, I don’t think it’s going to have a negative impact on Marine Park.”

Nearby residents, however, bemoaned the five-story synagogue as a “monstrosity.”

“The plan of an expansion of a 5,000-square-foot building to 27,000 square feet is daunting. When new construction of ‘monstrosity’ size takes place, as some have referred to it, it will affect existing structures around it,” read a letter sent to the community board by Marine Parkway residents Jose and Letizia Salce.

The complaints are myriad, concerning everything from parking and traffic, to air conditioners that will pollute the air and the synagogues towering heights, which opponents say will blot out the sun.

“It would block the sun, I wouldn’t have privacy. I couldn’t go in my back yard and be free to open my doors, and that’s one of the reasons we bought this house, because we feel free there,” said Merina Avsjukevich, who lives behind the synagogue on Marine Parkway. “Instead of hearing birds, you’ll hear air conditioners running all day and there will be additional pollution.”

Lieberman admits that the synagogue’s expansion will affect people living in the nearby vicinity, but he criticized people who live in other parts of the neighborhood coming to protest its plans, likening them to rabble-rousers.

“I think there are people who are concerned about Marine Park as a neighborhood, but who are not in close enough proximity to be impacted by it,” he said. “Someone on Kimball Street shouldn’t be concerned about parking on Nostrand Avenue. It’s good to be concerned about your neighborhood, but not when it comes to rabble-rousing about something that needs to expand.”

“To make an omelet you have to break a few eggs,” he added, “and its just unfortunate when you’re the egg.”

But Avsjukevich says just the opposite, saying the whole neighborhood will be affected by this so called “monstrosity.”

“It was presented like only a handful of people would suffer from it, which is the biggest lie I’ve ever heard,” she said. “It’s not just two families that will be affected, the whole neighborhood will be affected.”

The Board of Standards and Appeals will make its decision whether or not to award the synagogue its variance after it receives the community board’s letter of approval, although it seems likely that they will accede to the synagogue’s request, according to Community Board 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano.

“Basically once these things get passed by BSA to our desk, they’ve basically already approved it,” she said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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