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Get them to the Greek! Bay Ridge Hellenic school wins board approval

The Brooklyn Paper
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Catharsis!

After hours of debate, Community Board 10 approved the plan to build an out-of-scale Greek cultural school on 92nd Street during its general meeting on Nov. 17.

The board voted to support the Greek School of Plato’s application for a variance to allow a four-story facility between Battery and Seventh avenues, a block zoned for two-story houses.

A representative for the school said the board’s blessing was an emotional moment.

“Tears welled up in my eyes,” said Spiro Geroulanos, the school’s director for building. “This was 40 years in the making.”

The school teaches Greek culture and language and functions largely after-school and on weekends, Geroulanos said. It has operated in various locations in Bay Ridge since 1977.

Local opposition centered on the project’s size, traffic worries, and concern about eroding the neighborhood’s special zoning, which restricts buildings to no taller than 24 feet. About a decade ago, the city downzoned much of Bay Ridge at the urging of the community board, to prevent overbuilding.

“It’s not the Greek School. It’s the height of the building,” said neighbor Elaine O’Rourke. “It’s the traffic coming to the area.”

“We fought for 10 years to get zoning changes, and this goes against that,” said Victoria Hofmo.

The planned school building exceeds the allowable floor area, and several of its facades are closer to the lot line than the city allows, said the board’s land use committee chairwoman Ann Falutico.

But the school’s attorney said the concerns were overblown and reminded board members that the school already rejiggered its plans to better jibe with the neighborhood.

“The planned building is only 10 feet higher than zoning allows,” said the lawyer, Jordan Most.

And the school won’t have the negative effect on traffic that critics expect, he said, because most students attend on Saturdays, and they typically carpool.

One stalwart of the neighborhood’s downzoning said the Greek School doesn’t conflict with the spirit of the neighborhood-wide re-designation, because schools and houses of worship are traditionally given more leeway than the residential development the zoning is intended to cap.

“Nobody cares more about the zoning than I do,” said Stephen Harrison, the former board chairman and zoning committee leader who spearheaded the push to downzone a decade ago. “But schools and churches are classically bigger and would never fit in with bulk zoning.”

The board’s recommendation is only advisory, and the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals will make a final determination.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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