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Residents Pack Zoning Hearing on Islamic Center

Standing Room Only at Hearing

The North Hempstead Board of Zoning hearing on the request for a variance to build a parking lot, which is a non-permitted use, on the east side of 1046 North 2nd Street and on the south side 130 of Hillside Avenue at the Hillside Islamic Center, known as 300 Hillside Avenue in New Hyde Park, was packed with residents and there was standing room only.

At first it was rumored that the hearing was to change the zoning in the area, but that proved untrue; the hearing was to just change the  “permitted use.”  The actual wording of the variance stated, “To permit the demolition of a dwelling and use of the premises as a parking lot within a residential district which is not a permitted use.”

The first person to speak was the attorney for the Islamic Center, Raymond Smolenski, who said he had, in fact, been a former resident of New Hyde Park.  He said that the parking, especially on the recent Ramadan holiday, had been a concern for the neighborhood and by granting the 18 spaces that the Center requests, for use as a parking lot, it would alleviate that concern.

However, throughout the hearing,  he did mention that if the permit was not granted, the neighbors would then have to deal with the parking throughout the neighborhood.

He said that the reason the center petitioned for the permitted use is that they want to be good neighbors and because of the fact that without an increase in parking it provides an unnecessary hardship to the members of the Islamic Center, whose membership has increased significantly since it opened seven years ago.

A member of the board of directors at the Center, Abdul Dhuiyan, said that many of the members of the center are also members of the community and they try to contribute to the community. Many volunteer at soup kitchens and are sponsors of Ronald McDonald House. He said that they are faced with the fact that there has been an increase in people “coming to pray.”

He ended his testimony by saying, “We all want to be with you and you should want to be with us.”

One resident who spoke in opposition to the variance, and who lives right next to the Center, said that it has nothing to do with religion. He said all religions are welcome in New Hyde Park, but he said it has to do with the fact that a parking lot in this area would most certainly depreciate the value of our homes and, “By demolishing a home it would be taken off the tax rolls of the town,” he said.

President of the Parks Civic Association and a strong civic activist, James McHugh, said that there was a very strong possibility that this was just a first step of the Islamic Center wanting to enlarge its facility and he said by granting this variance it would be the first step in trying to secure a zoning change.

Attorney for the Board of Zoning Gerard Terry said, “That is not what is before us at this time, so please just stay focused on what we are considering now.”  In fact, several times during the hearing Terry had to stop the proceedings to caution those in the audience not to shout out a comment on what was being discussed.

One New Hyde Park resident presented pictures of the Center that he said showed that, although the area around the Center is landscaped with flowers and shrubs, the area in the back is not well-cared for.

Others mentioned that during the Ramadan period the Center had permission to erect tents in the parking lot for more than 30 days to accommodate the worshipers and he said during that period every hour of the day and night it was occupied by the comings and goings of the many worshipers.  He continued,  “In fact for the better part of 20 hours, they used an amplified sound system in the tents.”

Some area residents suggested that perhaps the Center needed to relocate to a larger facility, of which there are many in the area, and they even said that if there is a parking problem perhaps the Center could make an arrangement with either Stop ‘n Shop or CVS.

One New Hyde Park resident said that one of the Center’s worshipers was going so fast down the street that his young son was nearly run over, had it not been for his older brother who was able to pull him out of the way. The resident said the man apologized and said he was sorry, but said he was late for service and was in a hurry.

Many residents expressed that their quality of life has been compromised and that the granting of 18 parking spots is not going to make any difference.

Towards the end of the hearing McHugh came back to the microphone and said, “Everyone summed it up, they just need a bigger building to accommodate their increased membership.”

BZA attorney Terry then closed the hearing and the board voted to reserve decision.  Terry explained that a written decision would be issued in 62 days from the Sept. 22 date of the hearing.