Sept. 15, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
A Woodside church has big plans for expansion, but the community will have the chance to weigh in on it first.
La Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios, located at 68-03 Roosevelt Avenue, has filed for a zoning variance that would permit it to demolish its current one-floor structure, and build a 5-story building with underground parking.
According to the design firm for the project, the plans include two stories of parking, including one at basement level, as well as an outdoor parking deck. The church will occupy all five floors of the building, as its programming has outgrown its current space, a representative from the church said.
The proposal would require a complete demolition of the current structure, which takes up almost an entire block. The new building would rise 79 feet high and contain a total of 67,172 square feet of floor area. Though the church representative did not say how much the total project would cost, he said it would be funded entirely by donations from members of the church.
Community Board 2 is hosting a public meeting on the proposal on September 27 for community members to share their opinions at Saint Sebastian’s Parish Center at 39-60 57th Street at 6 p.m. The developers will attend the meeting and give a presentation on the proposal, and then will take questions.
The project will likely go before the full Community Board sometime in October, said CB2 Chair Denise Keehan-Smith.
The application for the variance is with the Board of Standards & Appeals and the community board’s opinion is advisory. The decision also does not have to be approved by the city council—and, therefore, by extension Councilman Van Bramer– like what takes place with a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application.
Property owners are able to seek a zoning change via the BSA if they can show that without the change it would result in a hardship and that the essence of the area would not change.
Keehan-Smith said that the Land Use committee first heard of the project at the beginning of the summer, and she has several reservations about approving the new variance.
She said that the size, scale and scope are concerning to her. The proposed building stands nearly 30 feet higher than any surrounding building, and it could cause issues with ventilation and blocking out sunlight, which could impact the quality of life for those living nearby.
The proposal also includes an 11-foot wall surrounding the entire property, and she said she doesn’t understand why that is necessary.
Her other large concern was cars would enter and exit the underground parking facility on Roosevelt Avenue, which would add to existing traffic issues in the area.
A church representative said that they hope to begin building early next year, in February or March. The architect said that once construction begins, the project would likely take 2 1/2 to three years to complete.
The Woodside congregation has about 1,500 members, said a church representative, and that is still growing. However, that is only a drop in the pail compared to the Church’s reach throughout the world.
The Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios, or Universal Church, is a global network of churches based in Brazil. It has over 6,000 locations throughout the world, with a dozen in New York City alone.
The Universal Church caters largely to the Latino population in the United States. It has come under scrutiny for how it handles worshipers’ money.
WNYC reported in 2014 that the church preached what is often known as a “prosperity gospel,” combining tactics from religious sermons with self-help seminars, the investigation found.
“Tell yourself this: I’m going to make myself rich,” preached a pastor quoted in the story. “I won’t be poor, I reject being poor. Is it a sin for me to say, God, I want to have a lot?!”
The Church was accused of conspiracy and money laundering in 2009, and its New York treasurer pleaded guilty to fraud charges in 2011 for falsifying documents in connection with $22 million in mortgage loans.
In 2015, Forbes estimated that the Universal Church’s founder, Edir Macedo, had an estimated personal fortune of $1.1 billion.