Kew Gardens Hills residents fight against synagogue expansion


| lguerre@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre
THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre

The Sephardic Congregation plans to add another floor and expand its school, but residents nearby are fighting against it.


A fight between residents and a local synagogue may need a lot of prayer and reflection before it is resolved.

Kew Gardens Hills neighbors are hoping to stop the proposed expansion of the temple’s school, which they say will further diminish their quality of life by increasing noise and garbage, while decreasing available parking spots and their property values.

The synagogue, the Sephardic Congregation located on 72nd Avenue between Main and 141st streets, plans to add another floor, which leaders say is necessary to cope with the school’s population increase.

Currently, the building has two floors and a basement level and towers over the houses on the block. Since the community is zoned for family homes, the temple requires Community Board 8’s approval for a variance to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).

“I’m worrying about one thing. I worry about the kids in the community,” said Rabbi Asaf Haimoff, who is also the principal of the school. “As an educator, I am responsible to make sure my kids get what they need. Neighbors have a different agenda … but the school is not closing down. It’s growing. It’s been growing and growing.”

The religious organization moved into the neighborhood about 20 years ago after converting a residential home, and soon after added a school, Yeshiva Ohel Simcha. The synagogue added the second floor in the late 1990s, Department of Buildings records show.

The school now enrolls about 70 preschool and elementary-aged students. But synagogue leaders say since the temple started in the neighborhood two decades ago, the congregation has expanded to about 200 people and they have had to halt school enrollment and turn prospective students away due to classroom size limitations.

Temple officials said they plan to add six classrooms on the new floor, so the building can accommodate up to 185 persons, including additional teachers.

But more than 50 residents within a two-block radius of temple have already signed a petition to deny the variance, which they plan to deliver to Councilman Rory Lancman’s office. Longtime residents say the community has been traumatized by noise from the synagogue during school hours for years.

“It’s been 20 years so we learned to adapt,” said Trinidad Lum, who has lived across the street for 51 years. “But before this building was put there this was a very quiet street.”

During school weekday drop-off and pick-up hours (8 a.m. and 5 p.m.) residents say parents block driveways and parking spots and they expect the problem to expand with more students.

“It’s going to be unbelievable traffic here,” said Dennis Shore, who lives next to the temple. “I already can’t park in front of my house when we go shopping. Where are these teachers going to park?”

Residents said they are also worried about the safety of the children. Since the school doesn’t have a playground, residents are afraid they will run into streets or the driveway behind the building in path of cars when they go out to play. But leaders say they plan to build a playground on the roof of the building.

The organization already has approval from the Community Board 8 Zoning Committee. They are seeking approval from the full board in a vote on Wednesday night.

 

 

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