Church Plans Draw Ire in ‘Little Manila’

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God as it would appear after expansion (Photo via QNS courtesy of Aries Dela Cruz)

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God as it would appear after expansion (Photo via QNS courtesy of Aries Dela Cruz)

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which has roots in Brazil, is looking to turn its Woodside location into the entity’s East Coast headquarters through an expansion of the building and the addition of 150 parking spaces. But as the church is situated in the heart of “Little Manila,” these plans have run up against local opposition, in particular from Filipinos.

At a Queens Community Board 2 public hearing held Sept. 27, The FilAm reports that critics of the proposed five-story structure took issue with what they consider a forthcoming “‘myriad of economic and social repercussions’” and “disrespect for the ‘cohesive and historic character of the neighborhood.’” As construction would take three years to complete, locals also had concerns it would hurt small businesses in the vicinity. Then, once completed, the existing difficulties with street parking would only get worse.

One resident spoke of the alleged questionable practices of the church’s founder.

“This church preys on poor immigrants by literally selling them false hopes while church leaders get richer and richer,” said Woodside resident Dan Raymond, organizer of the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project.

He said the church’s founder, multimillionaire Edir Macedo, has been “accused of secretly diverting hundreds of millions of dollars of donations from the poor into private business for his own gain.”

He said, “This church preys on the same immigrant communities which are under threat of displacement from gentrification. So, not only do we want to prevent this development, but we believe we should investigate and ask ourselves why we should even allow this exploitative organization to exist in the first place?”

QNS’ Angela Matua covers the details of the proposal, which The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God presented at the hearing.

Currently, the building is in an area zoned for manufacturing. The church is seeking a zoning variance from the Boards of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to reclassify the space as residential, according to Jessica Rubenstein, spokesperson for land-use attorney Eric Palatnik.

This change would allow the one-story building to reach five stories; the current 45-foot building would be demolished to make way for a new 79-foot structure. The new building would be 30 feet higher than any surrounding structures.

Matua also noted how the expansion would increase the church’s capacity:

The church’s existing capacity is 400 to 500 people but the expansion would allow for an occupancy of 996. In a previous interview, Rubenstein said the church currently can fit around 900 congregants in its space.

Go to The FilAm and QNS for more from the hearing.

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