Neighbors of the site, located at 145-15 33rd Avenue, were joined by leaders of civic associations across Queens at a rally last Thursday to protest the proposal, which calls for the construction of a 23,000-square-foot facility that would reach a height of nearly 95 feet in a neighborhood that is made up predominately of single-family homes. It would have a capacity of over 500 people.
Under the current zoning, the church could build a facility about half that size as-of-right.
"It will create a monster of a facility, but will also set a dangerous precedent for every low-density neighborhood throughout the city," said State Senator Tony Avella, who while a member of the City Council worked to rezone the neighborhood to prevent out-of-scale development.
The proposal has already been rejected by Community Board 7 and the Queens borough president, but it is up to the BSA to make a final determination.
At a Community Board 7 meeting in January, Bishop John Wu said the large size of the church was necessary to meet the worship needs of the congregation. As proposed, the church consists of one large meeting room in the center that rises two stories, but is ringed by several small meeting rooms on the second level.
As the bishop explained, members of the LDS Church meet for three hours every Sunday, the first hour as a large group, the next two hours in small Bible study groups based on age and gender.
It is the small meeting rooms on the second floor, explained Wu, which are the reason for the extra size and the variance.
"We cannot reduce the size of the chapel or change the size in order to meet our programmatic needs," Wu told board members. "We need this to be able to worship as our faith requires."
Complicating matters is that the congregation already has a church in Flushing near the intersection of Sanford Avenue and Parsons Boulevard. That lot is zoned R-7, which means the church could build a facility nearly 117,000 square feet, much bigger than the proposed church on 33rd Avenue.
"They don't want to build on a lot in Flushing where they have the appropriate zoning," said Avella. "There is something really wrong about this."
Independent urban planner Paul Graziano, who lives just blocks from the proposed church, said if the BSA grants the variance it will have ripple effects throughout the five boroughs.
"They're going to have a problem in Brooklyn, they're going to have a problem in Staten Island," he said. "If this goes through, it will set a precedent."
Tyler Cassell, who is president of the North Flushing Civic Association and as a member of Community Board 7 reviewed the proposal, said the community 's opposition has nothing to do with religion.
"We would feel the same way if this was a hospital or any other community facility," he said. "One of the reasons we begged and screamed to save our residential zones was because we were being inundated with community facilities."
The BSA has not scheduled a hearing yet on the variance request, but Avella promised that if it was approved, it wouldn't be the end of the matter.
"If it takes a lawsuit, then that's what will do," he said.