Flushing residents and civic associations want to know why the Mormon church is intent on constructing a chapel on 33rd Avenue that exceeds zoning regulations when it could build one on the land it already owns downtown.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has drawn the ire of Flushing civic associations for its plans to build a chapel, at 145-13 33rd Ave., which would require at least three variances. The proposal was unanimously disapproved by Community Board 7 last month and is currently on the desk of Borough President Helen Marshall after a Feb. 2 meeting at Queens Borough Hall.
Both the board and Marshall’s verdicts are supposed to be taken into consideration by the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which will make the final call.
Aside from the BSA application, community leaders have questioned why the church cannot build on a plot of land it already owns, at 144-27 Sanford Ave.
With the size of the parcel, which is zoned for apartment-style buildings, opponents said the land could accommodate an enormous structure.
The downtown plot currently houses a church built by Christian Scientists, but representatives from the LDS church said the building is too small and does not have enough rooms for Bible study, an essential part of their weekly worship.
“The lack of teaching stations/Bible-study rooms in the temporary facility on Sanford Avenue is, in fact, the primary reason that facility is inadequate,” the LDS church said in its BSA application.
Representatives from the church said at a January CB 7 meeting that the lot in downtown Flushing, which is 23,420 square feet, is not the correct shape to house the chapel the LDS leaders said is necessary for their worship.
But the LDS church has already built another vertically oriented structure elsewhere in Queens on a piece of land that is one-third the size of the downtown parcel, according to documents from the city Department of Buildings.
The church recently cut the ribbon on a six-story facility, at 89-58 163rd St. in Jamaica, that contains many of the same amenities the church’s proposed structure would contain.
The Jamaica church could have up to 17 Bible-study rooms accommodating 182 people if the sixth floor of the structure, purposely left vacant to allow for expansion, were fully used as described in the architectural plans. The proposed chapel in Flushing would have 15 rooms accommodating a total of 176 people.
The Jamaica church has a cultural hall like the proposed Flushing church and a chapel that would house more people than the proposed location, according to the plans. It also has a serving room, a relief society room and other amenities included in the proposed design.
But it only has half the space for bishop and clerk offices, according to the plans.
Civic leaders have testified at both the community board and borough president’s office that allowing the variances for the 33rd Avenue chapel, which include doubling the allowable floor space, would set a precedent for exceeding the zoning laws that were just amended in 2009 to protect the single-family character of the neighborhood.
During the Feb. 2 meeting, Marshall repeatedly reminded the church that the neighborhood was recently rezoned to preserve its character.
But the LDS church legally bought the 33rd Avenue plot in Flushing, where it wants to build, and has argued that it could build a structure without variances that would not look significantly different from the outside. It could either build the structure with very high ceilings, or by doubling the floor area, build a second floor inside the building and only making it taller by about 10 feet.
In addition, Richard Hedberg, a project manager for the church, said at the Borough Hall hearing that he would not want to make the congregation wait if the church were to tear down the current building and build a new one.