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Greek School of Plato expansion gets thumbs up from CB 10

Community Board 10 has given the go-ahead, with conditions, to an expansion by the Greek School of Plato, after back-to-back committee meetings at which neighbors of the facility expressed dismay at the height and size of the proposed school addition.

The vote, with 33 board members in favor and eight opposed, came during the board’s general meeting, held on Monday, November 17 at the Norwegian Christian Home, 1250 67th Street. It followed a lengthy discussion generated by the split decision of the board’s Zoning and Land Use Committee, which voted 4-4 on two separate motions intended to accommodate both residents and the school, on Thursday, November 13.

Currently, the Greek School of Plato’s after-school program and weekend school are housed in a one-story building at 670 92nd Street, with some classes held off site. However, school administrators submitted an application in October to expand to four and a half stories with a fifth floor that would accommodate a recreational roof, a request that prompted mixed reactions from the community.

“The Greek School was looking for a larger project out of compliance with the zoning and in the course of discussion, both the board and the school looked to make accommodations for resident concerns,” explained CB 10 Chair Brian Kieran, stressing that the proposal was for an increase beyond the allowable as-of-right limits outlined in the zoning. “Ultimately, we were looking for something that was smaller in size for the residents but that still accommodated the Greek School’s needs.”

Community concerns ranged from a lack of parking and traffic congestion to a lack of privacy for neighboring residents and the building being out of character. Some board members echoed those concerns, and also expressed  fear about going back on the board’s years-ago push for down-zoning, which was finalized in 2005.

The Greek School’s original proposal, presented by Jordan Most of Sheldon Lobel PC, would have included 18 classrooms – most of which would be utilized on Saturdays.

“92nd Street is already overwhelmed with traffic and noise problems, it can’t shoulder an additional burden,” stressed local resident Lawrence Tom. “Approving this variance would place more importance on granting additional rights than preserving existing rights. It shouldn’t be our neighborhood’s responsibility to change. It should be the school’s responsibility to fit in.”

Before leaving the podium, Tom posed a question many of those opposed hinted at: “Why was this property purchased if it wasn’t suited to their needs?”

Space is hard to come by, noted board member Bob HuDock, who stressed that, in his role as chair of the education committee, he has seen the struggle endured by the local school board when looking for new lots.

One local resident attested to the school’s strong sense of family.

“I understand everybody’s concerns, of course I do,” said the local resident, joined in the audience by her 19-year-old daughter, a student at the Greek School of Plato. “All we’re trying to do is build a home and, like anyone else who wants a home and wants to make sure they have enough bedrooms, we want to make sure we have enough classrooms.”

In the end, CB 10 voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) approve the school’s variance application with stipulations that the roofs on the two stair bulkheads at the fifth floor be sloped instead of flat, that “invisible” type fencing be utilized at roof level, and that a 10-foot setback be included at the fourth floor at the southwest corner of the site adjacent to residential property.

The stipulations, which representatives of the school told the board they would abide by, are intended to allow the Greek School enough classrooms to work with, while making the building seem smaller to the eye. In addition, school representatives promised to install an elevator for handicapped accessibility.

The board’s recommendation is advisory only; the final decision will be made by BSA.

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