Community Board 7 approved an expansion of a Whitestone Greek Orthodox church’s school at a meeting Monday night by a vote of 35-1.
Dozens of parents and educators flooded the meeting to voice their support for the proposal, which will more than double the size of the existing Holy Cross of Whitestone school from 5,870 square feet to a 14,201-square-foot building.
“My son has seen his parents, his teachers and community coming together to not only build his school, but also his future,” said Dina Skokos, a Holy Cross parent whose son is in the first-grade. “I know that will have a profound impact on the boy he is today and the man he will be tomorrow.”
Holy Cross, located at 150-05 12th Ave., first opened as a nursery and daycare center in 2002 and became a school with a kindergarten class in 2008. The school, which has had to bring in trailers to accommodate its growing student population, now offers third-grade classes and is going to add fourth-grade in the fall.
The proposed enlargement will enable the school, which currently has 180 students, to add a fifth-grade and to grow its capacity to 250 students.
No one spoke out in opposition to the expansion at the meeting, but Kim Cody, a CB 7 member and president of the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association, quietly voted against it.
Cody, who lives near the school, said in an interview later that he had concerns about traffic in the area, as there is also a preschool on the same corner called Qsac Preschool, in addition to a number of public and private facilities, such as the Whitestone Academy and the Whitestone Community Volunteer Ambulance Service.
“It’s very chaotic at 8:30 in the morning or 2:30 in the afternoon around there,” he said. “We’re concerned for the safety of the children and the parents that pick them up, as well as the residents of the community.”
Paul Graziano, an urban planner who was involved in discussions between the church and community leaders in Whitestone, said in an interview that the enlargement would make the school out of character with the neighborhood and cause worsening traffic problems.
“They have a terrible traffic issue already,” he said. “It’s just going to make things untenable in that intersection.”
In order to alleviate traffic concerns, the community board laid out a number of conditions to win its approval that the school agreed to meet. These included working to put a stop sign at the corner of 12th Avenue and 150th Street, having a one-way sign at the school’s parking lot entrance on 12th Avenue and having the students dismissed 15 minutes earlier so that they would leave the school at a different time than Qsac students.
City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) has already introduced a piece of legislation to obtain the stop sign and he attended the meeting to express his support of the expansion.
Before CB 7 members voted, Joseph Sweeney, chairman of the board’s Subcommittee on Land Use, also reminded them that Holy Cross could use the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act to challenge any disapproval of the plan.
RLUIPA is a piece of legislation that was passed by the federal government in 2000 that “protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice guide on the law.
In essence, the law gives religious institutions additional protections to challenge municipal zoning laws if those rules have been determined to impose substantial “burdens on the ability of congregations to exercise their faiths.”
Chuck Apelian, the board’s first vice chairman, said he was going to vote in favor of the proposal regardless of RLUIPA.
“This has been a spirit of cooperation,” he said.
The proposal will now go to the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which reviews variance and special permit applications.
See full article at Times Ledger.