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Megachurch branch in Smithtown draws residents’ parking concerns

Vehicles line up in the parking lot of

Vehicles line up in the parking lot of the Christian Cultural Center in Smithtown on Oct. 29, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

A New York City megachurch has opened a branch in Smithtown, but some residents have complained that worshippers’ cars are clogging neighborhood streets and parking lots.

“They came in with a bang,” said Rich Cardone, a contractor who lives nearby on Colonial Road.

The Christian Cultural Center’s New York Avenue property, which has three buildings, holds up to 266 people, according to the town. Various congregations have held services there in the past, but it was most recently occupied by a youth missionary group that neighbors said generated little traffic. The 2-acre property sold Sept. 8 for $2.1 million, according to the real estate website Zillow.

The church’s main campus, in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, has a congregation of about 40,000 members and is led by A.R. Bernard, the former evangelical adviser to President Donald Trump who stepped down from an informal advisory board this summer over the president’s handling of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Cardone said a busy Sunday can bring vehicles to Smithtown that fill the church’s lot, line streets and take up part of the parking at the nearby Smithtown school district administration building, which is also used by families for youth soccer on the fields out back.

Cardone said he’d seen arguments between soccer parents and worshippers over parking spaces there in the two months since the church opened. Once, he said, a group of vest-wearing bikers on loud motorcycles rumbled down to the church on a Sunday morning.

But church pastor Jamaal Bernard — A.R. Bernard’s son — described a milder scene, with worshippers visiting for services between 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Sundays.

The church’s lot holds 90 vehicles and the church has permission to use more than 20 spaces in the school district lot at 26 New York Ave., he said, leaving street parking — which is legal — for those who don’t get spaces in either lot.

The church also is looking for additional parking at the LIRR station and at town lots, Jamaal Bernard said.

“Give us a chance, work with us, and we’ll get to neutral ground,” he said in an interview this week.

While much of the congregation comes from areas including Coram, Central Islip, Brentwood and Farmingdale, Bernard said, about 50 church members live in Smithtown, including his family. Church members selected the New York Avenue location after they grew tired of renting space to worship in a Hauppauge hotel, he said.

Bernard said there would be renovations on the church property to accommodate offices for 15 church workers. A home on the grounds will be renovated to house visiting pastors, and another building may be used as a cultural space giving a “Christian perspective” on seasons and holidays, he said.

As for the bikers, Bernard said, their single visit was part of a fundraising mission. “We raised enough money to clothe a whole orphanage,” he said.

And some residents say they welcome the new congregation. “We’re happy that they’re here,” said James Knudsen, who lives nearby, adding that he’d seen church members out in the street managing traffic. His neighbors, he said, “will come around.”

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