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Get them to the Greek! Bay Ridge Hellenic school wins board approval

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Catharsis!

After hours of debate, Community Board 10 approved the plan to build an out-of-scale Greek cultural school on 92nd Street during its general meeting on Nov. 17.

The board voted to support the Greek School of Plato’s application for a variance to allow a four-story facility on 92nd Street between Battery and Seventh avenues — a block zoned for two-story houses.

A representative for the school said the board’s blessing was an emotional moment.

“Tears welled up in my eyes,” said Spiro Geroulanos, the school’s director for building. “This was 40 years in the making.”

The school teaches Greek culture and language and operates largely as an after-school and weekend program, Geroulanos said. It has operated in various locations in Bay Ridge since 1977.

Local opposition centered on the project’s size, traffic worries, and concern about eroding the neighborhood’s special zoning, which restricts buildings to no more than 24 feet. About a decade ago, the city down-zoned much of Bay Ridge, at the urging of CB10, to prevent over-building.

“It’s not the Greek School — its the height of the building,” said neighbor Elaine O’Rourke. “It’s the traffic coming to the area.”

“We fought for 10 years to get zoning changes, and this goes against that,” said Victoria Hofmo.

The planned school building exceeds allowable floor area, and several facades are closer to the lot line than the city allows, said CB10 Zoning and Land Use Committee chair Ann Falutico.

But the applicant’s attorney said concerns were overblown and reminded board members that the school already re-jiggered its plans to better jibe with neighborhood character.

“The planned building is only 10 feet higher than zoning allows,” according to the school’s attorney, Jordan Most.

And the school won’t have the negative effect on traffic that critics expect, he said, because most students attend the school on Saturdays and typically carpool.

One stalwart of the neighborhood’s down-zoning said the Greek School’s application doesn’t conflict with the spirit of the neighborhood-wide re-designation, because schools and houses of worship are traditionally given more leeway than the residential development the zoning is intended to cap.

“Nobody cares more about the zoning than I do,” said Stephen Harrison, the former CB10 chairman and zoning committee leader who spearheaded the push to down-zone a decade ago. “But schools and churches are classically bigger and would never fit in with bulk zoning.”

The board’s recommendation is only advisory, and the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals will make a final determination.

Posted 12:00 am, November 25, 2014
Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
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