A synagogue called Kehilat Sephardim of Ahavat Achim in Kew Gardens Hills at 150-62 78 Road has racked up $129,500 in Department of Buildings and Environmental Control Board civil penalties.
Violations were issued because of occupancy contrary to the building’s certificate of occupancy, which is for a one-family residential home, work without a permit and construction violations, the details for which could not be given to the Chronicle prior to deadline.
A partial vacate order meant to stop the building from being used as a house of worship was issued by the DOB on Jan. 9, 2009 after it was determined by inspectors to lack proper fire suppression systems and a place of assembly certificate, according to a spokesperson for the agency. It is still in effect.
Places of worship are allowed in some residentially zoned areas, the spokesman added, but the status must be reflected by the certificate of occupancy, which in the synagogue’s case says the building is a single-family home.
Rabbi Shlomo Nisanov, the head of the synagogue, says that it is working to pay the fines.
“It’s something that we’re trying to rectify,” he said, adding although his group has not asked for a fine reduction, it will.
A Queens Crap blog post from last month featured a complaint from an anonymous person about the crowds that come when the synagogue gives out food and block the entrance to a nearby community driveway.
Nisanov said that people who come to the food pantry are encouraged to avoid blocking the community driveway.
“Whenever there’s cars coming by, we always ask the people to move,” he said. “Even when there is no car coming by, we always tell people, ‘Please, it’s a driveway; we don’t want anyone to get hurt.’”
But when the Chronicle went to the location on Wednesday morning during the time of the food pantry’s operation, an entrance to the community driveway was blocked by a number of people waiting in line.
The rabbi added that the synagogue being in the area has benefited it in other ways.
“A house of worship and especially a synagogue in the neighborhood has raised the values of homes tremendously,” he said.
The Board of Standards and Appeals issued a variance for the building to be a synagogue with an accessory apartment for the rabbi in 2007 on the condition that it get a new certificate of occupancy reflecting the usage, according to the agency’s executive director, Ryan Singer. The certificate was necessary for the variance to legalize the building’s usage as a synagogue. The building did not have one by 2011, the deadline to do so under the conditional variance.
“To date the owners of the property have not been issued a new Certificate of Occupancy, and have not complied with the conditions set forth in the BSA variance,” a DOB spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
A complaint from November 2012, which also is active, says that cars are frequently parked on the sidewalk in front of the building.
Flushing resident Paul Graziano, a long-time critic of the Department of Buildings and challenger to City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), says that fines issued over problems at buildings are often ignored and toothless.
“The city does not enforce its own fine collection; it doesn’t enforce its own rules,” he said.