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?”

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  • BrooklynBus

    I can understand the rationale for Board 15 not wanting to vote on the matter because it is as of right. However, if there are many in the community who feel that a traffic study is needed because they believe (or say they believe) the area would be overwhelmed by traffic or parking problems, I fail to see why CB 15 is not in a position to request a traffic study. That doesn’t mean that the Board is in favor or opposes the mosque. It just means they believe more information is needed. It doesn’t even mean that one will ever be conducted. I’m sure they have requested traffic studies for other matters, so why not now? Is it because they just don’t want to? That’s what it sound like to me.

    • levp

      If the city is not going to do to a new traffic study in Manhattan Beach, where people are actually getting killed, they are extremely unlikely to perform one here.
      So CB 15 doesn’t want to do useless work.
      However, any private citizen willing to spend time can (and should) write a letter to DOB (and DOT, if a traffic study is being requested).

      I’d like to note that project organizers did already say that worshipers will mostly walk, not drive to the site.

      • BrooklynBus

        Writing a single letter isn’t a ton of work. A Community Board carries more weight than an individual.

        • levp

          Yes, but supposedly there are hundreds of people in “Bay People”. So if each of them writes 1 letter, that would be hundreds of letters and carry even more weight than one letter from a CB.

          • BrooklynBus

            Point taken.

  • Kon

    I have a somewhat insane suggestion. If the community is worried about traffic in the area, why don’t they just get the city to change parking laws on the street. They could place heavy fines for parking violations, and traffic violations.

    • bkgirl

      They could require them to have a parking lot. Parking requirements for places of public assembly are very clear within the zoning code.

  • J Fischer

    Let’s face it: very few people would worry about these same “zoning issues” if this were a synagogue or a church. With the possible exception of the most immediate neighbors – who may well have complained about any building at all, residential, religious, or other – many of those objecting to the Islamic Center are doing it because they don’t want to make the neighborhood too comfortable for Muslims. Freedom of religion and freedom of assembly are basic American values. Get over it! The Community Board can’t – and shouldn’t – contest the Constitution!

    • Ijas2000

      i agree 100 %. you make very good points and it all comes down to common sense .

  • G.M.A

    I am really wondering,,,,

    Thunders of variances has been granted to build OVERSIZED properties, COndos, center, and buildings thru the CB

    Muslims did not demand to over build, and thankfully the law and the zoning,

    Such group is demanding to do the opposite.

    .
    I think mosque developer should seek a variance to build on the whole property like other places of worship and build a bigger center instead of complying like other many places of worship.
    .
    comments about it as a Muslim,,

    1- traffic study to be made by any agency, is a against rights to eliminate others right,,,, ask a lawyer. if it happens what would be the logic behind so, and why is that happening,, any issues happens, any problems occur from such place,, just asking…. it is not built yet to make such studies,, everyone is looking at it as a racism approach too.

    2- To the engineer, Please give me break and know the profession,,,
    a. why is he doing the math for the street? based on what he is recalculating the width of the street,,, if any one parked let him/her gets a ticket…

    b. Roof is using to be filled for people ???? where does he get this information from??? I do not see any people placed on a roof,,,?

    3- Community board is not for such things, in fact Muslims may move to use CB to approve bigger place for… I think Community board in Manhattan approved the Rights for Muslims, like any other group, with a good majority..

    some one said they CB “represents the community” well Muslims are part of it I guess, and they have the right to have a Quit place to worship God, not to cause traffic, or spread violence, or sell drugs like other surrounding districts such as B.H, Crown Heights, or Brighton,

    Thanks to this Great nation and its fair people.

    • BrooklynBus

      Where do you get the idea that a traffic study is against peoples’ rights? Why are you certain that the results would show the mosque should not be built? Will many people be coming by car? I thought most supposed to be in walking distance. Personally, I don’t think that any traffic study would show the mosque should not be built unless much new traffic is projected which is not what should happen. Right?

      Of course those against the mosque who are using the traffic study just as an excuse, will not be satisfied if the results don’t show what they want it to show and will claim the study was rigged. Those who are genuinely concerned with traffic would be appeased.

      • levp

        I think G.M.A. is referring to private property rights, not civil rights (they can build “as of right”). In other words, when no additional studies were requested for all sorts of other projects in the past, it would be unfair for CB to ask for one just in this case.

  • Anonymous

    I still resent the name “Bay People”. “People opposed to the Mosque” is more suited.
    What is BS is 1300 petitioners, where do they live? Oh, yeah, Queens,S.I., Oshkosh?
    That surely makes them “bay people”.
    Hate blinds your way of existence.
    And yes, please do spend more on lawyers.
    What ever happened to that real estate woman?

    • levp

      Exactly, because that name implies that the rest of us are not Bay people (or not people?). We should hire a competent attorney…

      • Anonymous

        pro-bono.