(JTA) — A community board in Queens, New York voted 38-0 against a Chabad-Lubavitch plan to build a four-story school and community center in its neighborhood.
Community Board 13 in Cambria Heights, a middle-class African-American neighborhood where the Chabad rebbe is buried, rejected the proposal on Monday, the Queens Chronicle reported.
An organization affiliated with the Hasidic sect is seeking permission to demolish three houses and build a four-story facility with dormitory space for up to 62 students — a plan requiring 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, a Jewish cemetery where longtime Chabad leader Rebbe Menachem Schneerson is buried.
The complex, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year, has been a longtime source of friction, according to the Queens Chronicle, with residents complaining that visitors block traffic, block driveways and even relieve themselves on private lawns.
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 St. Alban’s,responded that the institution should instead be built in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the location of Lubavitch world headquarters. He also said that a dorm does not qualify as religious institution.