Church needs town’s OK to open on Grand

Pastor says he wants to work with the community

Posted

Another church is looking to call Grand Avenue home.

Centro Biblico Casa de Restauracion, a Uniondale-based congregation, will appear before the Town of Hempstead’s Board of Appeals on July 18 to request a special exception to have a church at the former site of the Wander Inn, at 2880 Grand Ave. The pub, which opened in 1952, closed in January 2017 after its owners could no longer afford rent on the site.

Centro Biblico is now renting a space in Uniondale. The Rev. Ceasar Morataya said he hopes to move the church to Baldwin by the end of the year. The church is buying the Grand Avenue building and plans to repair it, if its application is approved. The structure, Morataya said, is “falling apart.” The Board of Appeals could vote on the matter as early as Aug. 8.

“Baldwin is beautiful, and it will allow us to bring changes,” Morataya, a native of Guatemala who lives in Freeport, said in Spanish.

Morataya’s church opened eight years ago, and is a member of the Freeport Bible Center.

Other member churches are in Bellmore, Brooklyn and the Bronx. One of the focuses of Centro Biblico, Morataya said, is serving the community.

“We believe we can bring a different impact to the community with a message of peace,” he said. “We can’t just sit in four walls. We have to help our brothers and sisters, too.”

The church’s services include marriage counseling, drug and gang prevention, and moral support for people in jail. Centro Biblico has also rebuilt churches and schools in Cuba and Honduras to get children in those countries off the street.

Morataya said that about 70 Baldwinites belong to the church, and “we are thankful that we are being welcomed and embraced by the Baldwin community.”

Not everyone might welcome the church, however: In recent years, some residents have complained that there are too many houses of worship along Grand Avenue. (There are no fewer than six, of various denominations, from Ethel T. Kloberg Drive to Sunrise Highway.)

Baldwin Chamber of Commerce President Erik Mahler said the group would not offer an official opinion at the upcoming Board of Appeals hearing, but added that, personally, he opposes more churches on Grand Avenue. “Those properties come off our tax rolls,” Mahler said.

The Baldwin Civic Association will also not give an official opinion, its Economic Development Committee chairman, Darien Ward, said. Ward added, though, that the group would have liked to see another restaurant on Grand. “Without any type of revenue-producing opportunities, we’re not going to have a lot of tax base to work with,” he said. “We would have hoped to have retail or restaurants. That would have been ideal.”

Mahler and Ward said they have not spoken with anyone from the church, which Mahler said was “strange.” “Usually people will want to get in contact with us just to smooth things over,” he said, “because they have to go through these variance hearings.”

Civic Association President Karen Montalbano said she had heard no complaints from residents about the church proposal. “We just got some questions when the signs for the variance went up,” she said.

Morataya said he plans to reach out to Baldwin leaders and residents in the coming months. “We want to provide as much orientation and support as possible,” he said.

Centro Biblico is also asking the Board of Appeals for a variance on parking requirements — it would provide 53 spaces, but the town requires 84 for the site, board Secretary Al Jaegers said.

Attorney Christian Browne, who will represent the church at the board hearing, said, “There’s a parking deficiency. They’re required to have Y number of spots and they only have X.” The church also plans to ask for approval to provide parking in the front yard setback.

Anyone who would like to comment at the public hearing should be at the Town Meeting Pavilion at Town Hall Plaza, 1 Washington St., by 2 p.m. next Wednesday. The hearing will also be live-streamed at bit.ly/2L0Pcy3.

Nadya Nataly contributed to this story