BSA denied catering use in synagogue’s basement

Catering hall operated independently of synagogue use. In the 18,000- square-foot basement of its synagogue and school building, Yeshiva Imrei Chaim Viznitz operated a public catering hall. The catering hall had two lobbies, two kitchens and separate entrances to the street, and operated events seven days a week. In 2004 and 2005, the hall held over 320 events including weddings with over 500 guests.

The Department of Buildings issued an order to close down the catering hall, citing the fact that the site’s residential zoning prohibited commercial uses, and Buildings could not categorize the large catering use, which advertised in the yellow pages, as an accessory use to a school and synagogue. Buildings applied to BSA to revoke the Yeshiva’s certificate of occupancy, arguing that Yeshiva Imrei received it by fraudulent means.

Yeshiva Imrei sued, obtaining a court order to enjoin BSA from issuing any decision and requiring BSA to accept its variance application. It then argued that BSA should deny Building’s argument or, alternatively, grant a variance for the catering hall since the school and synagogue needed the income to stay afloat. It added that it spent millions on the basement space in reliance on the C of O, and case law and federal law required BSA’s approval.

When questioned by BSA as to whether all the events held in the hall related to the school’s students or the synagogue’s members, Yeshiva Imrei said that 50 percent of the events did, but it offered no proof to support that claim. It added that Brooklyn’s Boro Park community needed a low-cost alternative for weddings. As a final justification, Yeshiva Imrei mentioned several other religious groups and cultural institutions, like the 92nd Street Y, Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Riverside Church and the Museum of the City of New York, which it claimed operated similar events.

To be an accessory use, Buildings pointed out that the catering hall must be incidental, generally found on the same site, and secondary to the permitted uses of the school and synagogue.

BSA ruled that the use was not accessory and denied the variance. BSA noted that the income stream could be used to support the synagogue, but this alone would not justify the catering hall’s location in a residential district. No evidence submitted by Yeshiva Imrei showed that the catering hall supported the school or synagogue in its day-today functions, and the Yeshiva failed to prove that the site, building, or lot created a hardship. BSA emphasized that Yeshiva Imrei never offered any evidence that the mentioned institutions operated to the same frequency and, after BSA’s independent review, it discovered that several sat in commercial zones. Finally, there was nothing in the federal law that prohibited BSA’s denial since the decision would not impact the Yeshiva’s religious expression. The Yeshiva was free to use the catering hall for a permitted accessory use, like a student lunchroom or synagogue events.

BSA: 1824 53rd Street (60-06-A), (290- 05-BZ) (Jan. 9, 2007) (Stuart A. Klien, for Yeshiva Imrei Chaim Viznitz; Angelina Martinez-Rubio, for DOB). CITYADMIN

CITYLANDComment: The revocation of the Yeshiva’s C of O is pending before BSA. A special hearing on the issue is tentatively scheduled for March 2007.

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