William Miller, an attorney and a member of the Knights, said that the group requested a variance from the zoning board for height, off-street parking and a new, rectangular 51-foot bar. Although the property is zoned for buildings no higher than 18 feet, Miller explained, the group wants to construct a lodge that would be 22 feet high at its midpoint in order to mitigate future storm damage. It would also be elevated more than three feet and have no basement, with stairs at the front entrance on West Beech. Miller said that the building would have a large room for meetings and events, while the second floor would have an office and a storage room.
“It’s in character with the rest of the buildings in the West End,” he said. “If you go down Beech Street, you’ll see that there are numerous building well above this requested height.”
Zoning Board President Rocco Morelli asked if there would be any differences in the way the lodge operates, and Miller said that it would continue to function as a charitable organization. He explained that the Knights are a non-tax-exempt group, and pay taxes on the building. Under their charter, he said, they must give one-third of all funds they receive to charity.
Many in the crowd cheered when Miller and others noted the work the organization did in the aftermath of the storm. West End resident Rich Papetti, who was among the many past grand knights in the audience who praised the organization’s charitable work, submitted a petition with more than 200 signatures supporting the application.
“We’re not really asking for anything more than what we had,” Papetti said.
Resident Jaime Lynch said that the Knights are “the fabric of the West End.”
Ford said that the lodge is the heart of Long Beach and was a beacon of hope after the storm, where members served hot meals and gave out clothing and other supplies. She also noted the events the group hosts, including a blood drive that she organizes every year in memory of her late husband, Harry, a 27-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department who was killed along with two other firefighters at a blaze in Queens on Father’s Day of 2001.