After months of trying, opponents to the proposed Sheepshead Bay Islamic Center nearly got what they’ve been demanding from Community Board 15: a vote.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Several speakers continued their monthly plea at last night’s meeting for the board to express opposition to the planned mosque at 2812 Voorhies Avenue, and this time an opportunity was briefly in sight.
Executive board member Robert Gevertzman opened a can of worms when he asked Chairperson Theresa Scavo about the possibility of a vote. His curiosity was openly received by the opposition, who burst into applause.
With the topic on the floor, Scavo moved quickly to explain the pointlessness – and inappropriateness – of such a vote.
“If we take a vote, what do we do with it?” asked Scavo. “I’m putting it out there. We have heard month after month that I or the board should do something. Okay, we’re going to sit here and say, ‘No, we dont like the mosque.’ What do we do with that letter, who do we send it to? The Almighty Zoning People?”
That’s exactly what the opposition wants. After approving plans, the Department of Buildings opens a 45-day public comment period for neighbors to submit opposition and concerns about proposed developments.
“You have a choice to look at this stuff and to file actual objections,” said Alex Gitarts, a member of Bay People. The group is asking the Community Board to submit a letter of opposition and throw the brakes on the project.
But boardmembers explained that the DOB is looking for legal objections – not mere opinions on the appropriateness or merit of a project.
“You need a reason not to like it,” Scavo told Sheepshead Bites. “Unless we have a zoning item sent to us from City Planning Commission or the Board of Standards and Appeals … we cannot form an opinion and vote on an item.”
She added that the DOB does not send zoning items to look at. The board’s previous building-related objections are all items sent from the BSA, the board that issues variances and other special permits to property owners. The community board itself is solely advisory, and its recommendations to the BSA or Planning Commission are not binding.
“I think that everyone in the room that is opposed to this should understand our position: We are powerless. We don’t have any power. If this is approved as a matter of right, it doesn’t come to us,” explained Morris Harary, an executive board member. “If anybody is saying to us, ‘Create an issue,’ we’re not able to create an issue. Go out and get a lawyer and create an issue.”
But the explanations did little to temper the demands from the mosque opposition.
“It’s complete bullshit,” said Gitarts. “If these people truly represent the people, don’t they have to look into it? But they don’t want to.” Gitarts said his group represents more than 1,300 people who have signed a petition to prod local leaders into action. But their letters have gone unanswered.
Bay People says that there remains a legal objection to the mosque’s development in the form of zoning resolution 25-01, which details parking requirements in residential areas. They say a building of that size requires off-street parking.
But Scavo said they’re misreading the zoning text.
She told Sheepshead Bites that a community facility’s parking requirements are determined by the floor-area-ratio (FAR) of the single largest floor in the building, and not the building’s total as the group has been using to calculate. Based on that number, the Islamic Center needs to provide 9.2 parking spaces – but the Department of Buildings waives that requirement if it’s under 10.
The statements made by Bay People’s members illustrate the continued prevalence of misinformation surrounding the mosque.
Susan Gerber, a former teacher in the area, described the building as four-stories and containing thousands of people. An engineer for Bay People said it will hold 300 people inside, and they’re building the roof in such a way to hold an additional 200 people. Victor Benari said it will broadcast calls to prayer five times a day, and that the building will require variances and a change in zoning.
But the plans filed and approved by the city are for a three-story building that holds 121 people. There will be no roof extension and the top floor is limited to classrooms and a library. It is already approved as an as-of-right project and will not need – or be granted – variances or a change in zoning.
Additionally, mosque organizers have promised not to broadcast their calls to prayer outside of the building.
“It seems that there’s truly a lot of misinformation and I’m not sure if whomever is reading this information understands the zoning and looking at documents and plans,” Scavo told Sheepshead Bites, describing some of the assertions as “totally ludicrous.”
“Who’s giving them these numbers?”