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Renderings of the finished assembly hall. (Images from the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses)

Former GEICO Building In Woodbury To Become Worship Facility

Town of Oyster Bay approves Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly hall

On April 11, the planning advisory board for the Town of Oyster Bay voted unanimously to approve the site plan for the former GEICO property at 750 Woodbury Road in Woodbury. The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses purchased the GEICO Corporate Office in December 2022 and submitted applications to the Town of Oyster Bay in May 2023 to develop an assembly hall for weekend gatherings.

According to a website about the project from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the facility will be used for weekend gatherings from the greater Long Island community.

The former owner of the property, GEICO, operated a 239,000-square-foot four-story office building with 1,838 parking spots and 3,000 employees with a usage of 300 days per year, six days per week, and 18 hours per day.

In contrast, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will operate a 53,000-square-foot, one-story assembly hall with 709 parking spots, an average attendance of 1,450 when in use, and a usage of 75 days per year from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., including 62 Saturday and Sunday programs and 13 Friday programs. No programs will be scheduled for Monday through Thursday. Currently, the organization operates 43 assembly halls throughout the United States. But this will be the first one on Long Island.

Congregants have been commuting from all over Long Island to the nearest assemblies, located in Brooklyn and Queens, for decades. Now that the assembly hall in Woodbury is approved, the commute will be more convenient for Long Island Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Construction will take place Tuesdays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Assembly halls, according to the project’s website, historically take 12 to 14 months of construction to complete. If everything goes as scheduled, the assembly hall will open in 2025.

While the assembly hall will only be in use 75 days a year, the property will be monitored 24/7 by security and an on-site caretaker who will live on the property in a parsonage to be constructed as part of the new plan.

A community impact analysis commissioned from consulting firm BBC Research & Consulting found that over several decades, the impact of the assembly hall’s operation would contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to Nassau County’s economy, sustaining hundreds of jobs.

According to the website, the introduction of the assembly hall in Woodbury will not increase door-to-door ministry, which is handled by local congregations operating out of existing kingdom halls.

The website also states that a traffic study commissioned for the project from Nelson + Pope determined that “construction of the proposed facility will not result in an adverse traffic impact at the study intersections and the surrounding roadways.”

Traffic is an issue for residents of the two nearby residential developments, Woodbury Meadows and Eagle Chase. One resident spoke at length about the difficulty exiting the development when the GEICO building was in use. “We have asked for a traffic light or neighborhood and we were turned down because of the cost. So we only have one way in and one way out. We do not have the ability to go from East to West…We live right by the expressway and the Northern State [Parkway]. Everybody that comes to this church is going to come from the Northern State or the Long Island Expressway. There’s no way that we won’t have traffic concerns…It’s definitely going to be a concern to the people that live in Eagle Chase,” she said.

This property is zoned as light industrial, leaving it open to development for many different uses, including gyms and warehouses, which would all see a far greater impact on traffic and noise.

Another issue raised was the loss of tax revenue from the property. Houses of worship are not taxed, so the new building will not generate revenue, but after consulting with a tax expert, the sale of the second property in the subdivision to a tax-generating entity should completely offset the loss of tax on the assembly hall.

The congregation has agreed to several conditions the neighboring communities requested. They will be planting laurels in the barrier with Eagle Chase to provide additional screening. They will also be restricting the use of the maintenance building to warming food and equipment storage. The building will only be used for Bible education and will never be leased or used for outside events such as weddings. The parsonage also will not be leased and will only be occupied by the caretakers and visiting guest speakers. There will be traffic operations onsite for every gathering and there will be no parking off site. The facility will be limited to 85 percent capacity and directions will be mailed with all invitations that direct traffic away from the neighboring developments. Trained volunteers would also help direct parking on weekends when the assembly hall is in use.

The former GEICO building will be used for administrative functions and staging during construction. However, the application before the Town of Oyster Bay calls for it to be demolished. The property will be subdivided into two parcels and the front 10 acres will be sold.

Several members of the church spoke about how this site would benefit their worship. “When it comes to our assemblies and conventions, that becomes a very special event for us. As a father, my children came and they sat with us in a family arrangement. The travel I had, which is about a little over 30 miles from where I live in Oyster Bay to Queens assembly, it was a little over two hours; in this location it would be 10 minutes. With traffic, maybe 15. So for me personally, it’s a good benefit,” said one of the congregants.

Another member mentioned the difficulty commuting to Queens and finding parking, especially as they age. “For maybe over 50 years, we’ve been traveling to the Queen’s assembly hall. I love the Queen’s assembly hall. It’s definitely dear to my heart. But when we heard that they’re building Long Island assembly hall, oh my goodness, we were both jumping. Because you know how the traffic is going into Queens, and it’s been getting harder and harder as we get older. The parking in Queens (is also hard.) So we’re really looking forward to having this assembly hall.”

For more information, visit jw-longisland.org.

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