The Babylonian Jewish Center has always had a parking problem.
First, the Great Neck temple had to gain approval from rabbinical leaders in Brooklyn and Israel to bypass religious laws and let members park in their own lot on the Sabbath. For 10 years, congregants walked or parked in nearby streets, congesting the residential neighborhood.
That parking lot sometimes doubles as the site of lunch receptions after services, when a large tent converts the lot to a catering hall. But the tent takes up valuable parking spaces, putting more drivers on the streets.
Now the temple wants to build a 4,800-square-foot expansion for a new social hall and two classrooms upstairs.
Officials at the 13-year-old temple -- whose members' families lived in Iraq before being forced into exile during the 1940s and 1950s -- say the new facilities will better accommodate its 125 families. But neighbors say they fear the new social hall with its 210-person capacity will mean more cars in their already-crowded neighborhood.
"The problem with the synagogue is that they don't park in their parking lots, they park in the streets," said Alison Belfiore, who lives nearby and is a member of the Lakeville Civic Association. "They're looking for a big center and the residential neighborhood is not fit for it."
The temple denies that. "It's not like we're growing," said Orly Maslavi, the temple's incoming sisterhood chairwoman. "It's an Iraqi congregation, most of our people are in Israel and other countries, and everybody is already settled."
The temple's bylaws, said Rabbi Nir Shalom, make it difficult to include new members. Its size, he said, has remained roughly the same since the congregation formed. "The purpose of the expansion is not to bring more people here," he said. "It's for those 150 people here who come occasionally to our events who will have a place to sit down."
The social hall, temple officials say, will eliminate the need for the tent and open up more parking spaces. Even if more people come, Shalom said, "It's going to be better than now."
The chief of the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department, James Pitzer, worries about the proposed social hall being adjacent to Clair Street, "a major artery" to a large apartment complex in the neighborhood.
"It's too narrow when there are cars parked on both sides, it delays our response to certain addresses in the area," he said.
The proposal needs site plan approval by North Hempstead Town. Board member Lee Seeman has reached out to synagogue members and residents, who criticized the plan at a July 10 hearing, which was continued to the board meeting on Aug. 21.
"It's a very small synagogue, and they need to expand for their people. But we have to work it out so the neighbors are satisfied," Seeman said. "I think things are fixable."