The city Zoning Board Appeals has rejected a request from a group that caters to people with “alternative lifestyles” to operate a community center in Midtown.
The board voted unanimously on Tuesday against the change-of-use filed by the group Feel Me Breathe for the building at 1-11 Sterling St. Board members said they rejected the request because the building’s owner, Michael Piazza, did not show he would suffer “unnecessary hardship” if the change was turned down.
The change was needed because the building is located in an office zone. The community center operated at the site for 11 months until being shut down by the city earlier this month.
The city’s attorney, Andrew Zweben, said Feel Me Breathe did not obtain permission for the building’s use, did not undergo a required Planning Board review and did not get a parking variance.Supporters of Feel Me Breathe say it is a “discreet” group that provides a haven for people with alternative lifestyles. The group says its membership is more than 600, with many coming from different parts of the United States.People under age 18 are not allowed into the center, and non-members cannot enter unless invited.About 30 members of the group attended Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.
Board members asked whether Feel Me Breathe allowed sexual activity inside the Sterling Street building. Accord resident Tina Woodbury, who heads the group, said no.
Woodbury said the building simply was a gathering spot where people with “alternative lifestyles” — such as gays, lesbians, transsexuals and cross-dressers — could gather “without judgment.”
“We embrace everyone who considers themselves alternative lifestyle — whether they are into SM, or they are bi or poly or trans or furry, cross-gender or cross-dressers,” Woodbury said. “If you feel you are different from the norm and you need a place where you can be embraced and not be judged, Feel Me Breathe wants to welcome those types of people.”
Woodbury, who identified herself as is bisexual, said classes given at the center have dealt with such subjects as bondage, domination, sadism and masochism. She said the classes are given so that people can conduct themselves safely.Woodbury said she was disappointed by the board’s decision.“Now we have no place to call home,” she said.
Zoning Board of Appeals member Andi Turco-Levin, a former city alderwoman and one-time mayoral candidate, said the Sterling Street location is inappropriate for Feel Me Breathe’s center because it is near the Boys & Girls Club of Kingston and a youth baseball field.
Midtown resident James Ritcher echoed that sentiment.
“If this is what they want, fine. Let’s find an appropriate place that is correct for it,” he said.