Community Board 13 in Cambria Heights, Queens voted down a proposal by Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch for a charter bus stop near Montefire Cemetery. The unanimous vote comes two weeks after residents rejected, also unanimously, the charter bus stop at a public hearing. The final decision rests with the City’s Department of Transportation.
From the Queens Chronicle:
Community Board 13 on Monday voted down a proposal by an area synagogue for a charter bus stop near the cemetery where the sect’s founder is buried.
Hundreds of pilgrims, members of Congregation Ohel Chabad Lubavitch, located at 226-20 Francis Lewis Blvd., visit the adjacent Montefiore Cemetery each day and thousands stop by on special religious occasions to pray and reflect near the graves of the sect’s leader, the late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, and his father-in-law, Yosef Schneersohn, the prior rebbe.
There are concerns among homeowners in the quiet Cambria Heights community about noise, traffic and pollution caused by buses that already come to the area and idle when they drop off the pilgrims. The group’s rabbi, Abba Refson, sees the proposal as a solution, while neighbors worry it would only make things worse.
“I do believe the request is unfair,” said CB 13’s Transportation Chairwoman Tanya Cruz. “We see the buses and we know they aren’t going to listen to us and really try to rectify this.”
A public hearing on the matter was held at CB 13’s Transportation Committee meeting on Sept. 11 at the Alpha Phi Alpha Senior Citizens Center in St. Albans, where the proposal was voted down by residents 66-0 with no abstentions. The full board voted down the proposal 23-0 with no abstentions.
The city Department of Transportation is considering a spot on Francis Lewis Boulevard somewhere between 227th and 228th streets for the bus stop, called a layover zone. The agency may still approve the plan since the community board’s power is only advisory.
Cruz was disappointed that no one from the congregation was present at the board meeting. She said Refson told her the ultra-Orthodox sect is not allowed to enter other houses of worship and CB 13 holds its gatherings at a church. Still, she said, the group could have sent its lawyer, who had been representing the members on this issue and others in the past.
Many suggested the layover zone be put on Springfield Boulevard, a commercial strip with more room, that is away from the residential community. And others recommended that the buses stay in the cemetery parking lot.
The congregation claims Springfield Boulevard is too far away from the site for the congregants to travel by foot, and that the cemetery won’t provide the synagogue with a long-term lease for parking on the property because it plans to sell the land in the future.
“People are overwhelmed,” Cruz said. “The pilgrims treat the neighborhood like its 42nd Street. They don’t think of it as, that’s my neighbor’s house. They don’t have any connection.”
Cruz said the next step will be for the board to contact the Department of Environmental Protection and ask the agency to conduct a health study on pollutants from engine idling.
The congregation could not be reached.