A letter from Borough President Marty Markowitz – dated January 4, 2012 – has surfaced, indicating his office may be sympathetic to Bay People’s zoning challenges against the Sheepshead Bay Islamic Center, a.k.a. the Voorhies Avenue mosque at 2812 Voorhies Avenue.
In the letter, Markowitz acknowledged the Islamic community’s right to worship, but noted that the plans filed with the Department of Buildings include a partition dividing the primary prayer areas. That may be an attempt to skirt zoning laws that require parking, he wrote.
“For certain zoning districts the City’s Zoning Resolution attempts to address the adequacy of parking by requiring a specific number of spaced based on the capacity of the largest room of assembly,” he wrote, noting that the largest room at 2812 Voorhies Avenue is split by a petition with a shared window. “Thus … it appears that the number of persons participating in the service would otherwise trigger a requirement to provide accessory parking if that partition was not included in the plans approved by the DOB.”
That argument has been the crux of Bay People’s zoning challenge since the plans were first submitted to the DOB.
Markowitz noted that this could set a precedent for houses of worship of all religion.
“There are a number of communities where allowing a room to overlook another room and not consider both rooms for parking calculations can have an adverse effect on parking availability for residents and businesses,” Markowitz wrote.
Markowitz stopped short of definitively saying that the divider creates a violation of zoning, noting that the enclosure fits within a strict interpretation of the law – if not the spirit.
He advised the group to bring the matter before the Board of Standards and Appeals for reconsideration (which they did, and lost), then, if necessary, file an Article 78 (an appeal of a written decision made by a public agency believed to have wronged the plaintiff). The group has now done that.
Even still, Markowitz noted that the text of the zoning resolution may need to be amended. But, if Bay People is forced to take that route, only future construction would be affected.