Zoning attorney Jai Goldstein took questions on the yeshiva expansion at last Wednesday’s CB5 meeting.
Glendale residents voiced firm opposition to the proposed expansion of 88th Street’s United Talmudical Seminary during Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting, citing concerns about the impact on infrastructure and traffic, and questioning if the seminary’s current housing set-up had been violating zoning law since it opened in 2006.
The seminary is appealing to the Board of Standards and Appeals for a variance that would allow for an expansion of 28 new classrooms and about 350 new beds, ultimately housing 710 students on the site. Currently about 360 of the 1,050 students the yeshiva services dorm at the facility during the week, with the rest bussed in every morning round 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., primarily from Williamsburg.
The students who currently sleep at the site were of concern to many board members and community residents, who said the original certificate of occupancy issued by the Department of Buildings did not make mention of students dorming on site.
“In 2006, the c of o did not mention dorms, in 2007 it did not mention dorms, in October of 2007, it did mention dorms,” said community member Dawn Scala. “I looked at the zoning regulations and discovered that sleeping accommodations are not allowed in M1-1 zones. My question is, how is that c of o approved? Was it approved erroneously, or with blatant disregard for the law?”
“I don’t have a problem with the yeshiva, everyone says the students are wonderful,” she added. “But I do have a problem granting a variance for an establishment who has been violating the law for years.”
Like many at the hearing, Glendale resident Lawrence Cirullo questioned if local infrastructure, already stretched thin, could bare the brunt of the expansion.
“ We need help,” he said. “We have problems.”
Other members also pointed to the potential impact on traffic that additional dorms could create.
Zoning attorney Jai Goldstein said that the dorms would cut down on traffic, as less students would be arriving and leaving on a daily basis. Both he, and Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director and President of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, Inc., said they could not speak to the validity of the c of o, which was filed before their association with the yeshiva.
At the end of the public testimony, Rabbi Niederman made a plea to the community to sit down with him and yeshiva representatives and discuss any concerns.
“We don’t have a stamp of approval,” he said. “We are here to ask you to please consider this.
We are at this point good neighbors, and what I ask is that you please give us a chance to sit down with a committee of people you select, and try to work out the issues. That’s all we’re asking.”
After the hearing, the Community Board decided the Land Use Committee will hold a tour of the yeshiva next week, on September 15. That tour will not be open to the public, but a Community Board #5 Land Use Committee meeting will follow on Monday, September 21, at 7:30 p.m at the Community Board office. At that meeting the Committee is expected to come up with a recommendation about the variance to the full board – which will meet the 2nd Wednesday in October..