North Hills neighbors split on church proposal for expansion

North Hills neighbors split on church proposal for expansion
The Village of North Hills Village Hall. (Photo courtesy of the Island 360 archives)

A proposal of additions and renovations to the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists in North Hills has split neighbors concerned about the impact of the project, when one expressed support for the amended plans at a hearing Wednesday night after opposing it for months.

The church, located at 7 Shelter Rock Road, is proposing a series of changes to the building and site, including expanding the parking lot, the building’s setback, a new recording studio and other building expansions. The proposal is requesting variances for the building’s height, distance to the property line, building and structure coverage, floor area ratio and required parking spaces.

No decision was made during the public hearing at the North Hills Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday as the trustees opted to reserve their decision on the matters.

Kathleen Deegan Dickson, an attorney representing the church, said the project plans had changed to address neighbor requests to mitigate impacts on their properties. This included widening the access easement to 20 feet, moving the upper parking lot further from the property line, adjusting the rear landscaping and painting the building a neutral color.

“We thought, just to be a good neighbor, we would accommodate,” Deegan Dickson said.

Deegan Dickson said the church had received a letter from the village’s consulting engineering firm that their comments on the development had been addressed, with some conditions, and they felt comfortable with the board making a decision.

“It’s been an iterative process,” Deegan Dickson said. “I think it’s been very fruitful for all involved.”

Bruce Migatz, who jokingly said he switched sides, said his clients who neighbor the church and were initially opposed to its expansion have said they are now OK with the amended project plans.

Migatz read a letter from his clients, who live adjacent to the church, stating their consent for the board to approve the revised plans without further revisions.

He said the access road expansion proposed in the new plan is better than what is currently at the property, which is why his clients consented to the application. While this has eased their concerns, he said they still want to ensure it is adequate to accommodate the increase in building size.

Migatz said his clients are still concerned about the ability of fire and emergency services to access the property. He asked the village to request that the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department review the access.

While the adjacent neighbors have expressed approval for the new site plan, that is not true for another neighbor who has opposed the expansion.

Michael Hopkins, who represents another neighbor of the church, said his client remains opposed to the proposal due to an “undue hardship” it places upon his own property. Hopkins read a letter from his client addressing the issue.

“To place such an undue hardship on my property…is unrealistic and unfairly weighted,” Hopkins read from the letter provided by his client.

Hopkins said the main concern of his client is the setback of the property close to his property line, which is one of the variances requested by the church. He said even within the scope of religious use, the development is excessive.

Mayor Marvin Natiss questioned whether the building’s expansion falls within the scope of religious use, which is assessed differently than other uses, as the purpose of the expansion is for accommodating office spaces and events.

“If it was just for religious use, I’d understand our limitations, but because you’re telling me it has offices and banquets and people all being in the same rooms at the same time, I do have some concern,” Natiss said.

Natiss also pointed out that the original application proposed the plans as an expansion of a commercial use and was later changed to an expansion of a religious use. Deegan Dickson said this was a typo that was not caught by her prior to submitting the application.

Village attorney A. Thomas Levin said the scope of religious use has been determined in courts to be broader than religious services and practices. Deegan Dickson confirmed this, explaining that the church’s use of office spaces and banquet halls is still for the purpose of their religious practices.

“Just like any other religious institution, you need to have administrative offices,” Deegan Dickson. “If you want to have other religious leaders come visit you, you need a place to have lunch.”

Deegan Dickson said the current spaces are used for multiple purposes and require them to be converted for different uses. She said this proposal would provide separate rooms for different uses.

She said that while the building plans are to expand the building, the church’s operations are not expanding with it. She said the purpose of the building expansion is to accommodate the existing use and the church’s religious use will remain the same as it has been since the 1970s when it was established.

The North Hills Board of Trustees will convene again at the village hall for its next meeting, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 15.

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