NEW YORK (JTA) — A New York City community board voted 38-0 against a Chabad plan to build a four-story school and community center in its neighborhood.
Community Board 13 in Cambria Heights, Queens, a middle-class, predominately African-American neighborhood where the last Chabad rebbe is buried, rejected the proposal on Monday, the Queens Chronicle reported.
An organization affiliated with the Hasidic movement is seeking permission to demolish three houses and build a four-story facility with dormitory space for up to 62 students near the site where Rabbi Menachem Schneerson is buried. The plan requires special approval because it is in a neighborhood zoned for single-family homes.
The proposed building would be located 259 feet from the Ohel Chabad Lubavitch complex on the border with Montefiore Cemetery, where Schneerson is buried.
The complex, which hosts tens of thousands of visitors to Schneerson’s gravesite each year, has long been a source of friction, according to the Queens Chronicle. Among the residents’ complaints are that the visitors block traffic and driveways.
At the meeting, attorney Sheldon Lobel defended Keren Peulos, the Chabad group seeking to erect the building, noting that it is a different entity from the one that runs Ohel Chabad.
The rebbe “dedicated his life to educating children,” Lobel said. “There are children from India, Africa, who need to go to school. Hopefully, this will be the site of the school where they can send them.”
Lobel also said that the federal and New York State constitutions grant great latitude to religious institutions for zoning regulations.
However, state Sen. Leroy Comrie, whose district includes Cambria Heights, responded that the institution should instead be built in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the location of Chabad world headquarters. He also said that a dorm does not qualify as a religious institution.