Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Yet Another Setback For Sheepshead Bay Mosque Opponents

Opponents to a proposed mosque in Sheepshead Bay suffered yet another setback. The City's Board of Standards and Appeals rejected the groups' claims.
Though it hasn't attracted as much attention as Park 51, the Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, the mosque planned for 2812 Voorhies Avenue, on a residential block between East 28th and East 29th streets, has inspired protests, a lawsuit and challenges before the Department of Buildings.

Bay People, an organization formed to oppose the project, claims the mosque will increase traffic and noise in the neighborhood, decreasing property values. But the group has also come under fire for what is seen as its anti-Muslim bias.

In several DOB complaints lodged earlier this year, Bay People contended that the mosque, which is affiliated with the non-profit Muslim American Society, must provide on-site parking because of the number of worshippers expected at the property.

But DOB, which had already approved the project, shot down the challenges, finding the mosque would comply with zoning rules. The BSA voted 5-0 to affirm DOB today and is expected to issue a written decision shortly, according to Howard Goldman, a land-use attorney who represented Bay People.

Goldman said the decision would have an impact across the city, allowing any house of worship to design prayer rooms in such a way to avoid providing parking. "Any house of worship can now follow this ruling," Goldman said, adding, "It may require that there be an amendment to the zoning resolution to eliminate this loophole."

Developer Allowey Ahmed bought the property -- comprised of a vacant lot and a lot with a single-family home -- for $800,000 in 2007, from a couple who had owned there since 1974, according to city property records. Last October, he got the green light from DOB to erect a three-story brick building, with a 2,465 square foot structure on a 4,500-square-foot lot, department records show.

For Bay People, the sticking point is the way the mosque's proposed worship rooms are divided into two separate spaces: a 138-person main assembly room on the first floor and a 75-person secondary room overlooking the main space, according to plans submitted to DOB. (Goldman believes the second space is intended as a prayer room for women.)

New York's zoning code requires that houses of worship -- mosques, churches, synagogues, or otherwise -- provide one parking space for every 15 occupants of a site's largest assembly room, or 9.2 parking spaces in the case of the Sheepshead Bay mosque. But facilities that are required to provide fewer than ten spaces are, in fact, exempt from the parking obligations altogether.
The opponents claim that the parking requirements should apply because both spaces will be used for prayer as a single room; and that the total number of occupants would trigger the parking space requirement. Since the property can't accommodate the parking requirement, the opposition thought they'd be able to block the mosque on a zoning technicality.

The opposition has been fighting with the mosque developers in court as well; and the developers have fought back with counterclaims malicious prosecution, defamation and abuse of process, seeking at least $56,000, plus punitive and other damages. However, a September court ruling dismissed all those claims by both sides although both sides have appealed.

This isn't the last we'll hear of the mosque project

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