Four Corners club draws flak

The 2004 sprinkler law that forced nightclubs across the state to install sprinkler systems and new fire alarms has sent pocketbook-draining shockwaves through that industry, forcing some to move and a few to appeal the law. But in the Four Corners area it has caused dancing in the streets - and not the kind appreciated by neighbors.

Asia Khan, who lives nearby on Dakota Street, said she has dealt with booming car stereos, screaming arguments and drunken debauchery on weekend nights off and on for the past two years, including one particularly disturbing incident in the fall of 2006.

"We hear the noise, and my husband gets up to see what's going on," said Khan. "There's a car parked in the middle of the street with the doors open and the music playing. She's on the sidewalk, just dancing by herself and whatever. Her friend is in the back seat of the car, orally gratifying a young gentleman."

Khan describes other incidents where older neighbors have called her complaining of revelers drinking on their front stoops and one man who tried to relieve himself on the wall in front of her house.

"That began the adversarial relationship with the [club's] customers," she said.

Other neighbors said they have found condoms in their yards, and one is said to have videotaped sexual acts in cars parked outside of her house.

In response to repeated complaints, the Boston Licensing Board held a disciplinary hearing for the Montserrat Aspirer's Club at 358 Washington St. - the venue in question - on July 23. The board required the club to resolve problems with neighbors before another event is held, and City Councillor Charles Yancey facilitated a meeting between some of the club's board members and neighbors on Aug. 20. But according to those who attended that meeting, little has been resolved, and the club was given more one-time event permits for Carnival on Aug. 22 and Aug. 23.

Trevor Browne, president of Aspirer's, counters that many of the complaints are old news - back when other local cultural clubs, such as Kay's Oasis, 3C's (the Caribbean Cultural Club), and the Unity Club were closed to add their own sprinkler systems - and he has since beefed up security. The club holds member nights on Fridays, and rents out for birthdays, wedding parties, and occasionally DJ's on Saturdays. The rents help pay a $180,000 mortgage the group took out in 2007 to pay for an $80,000 sprinkler system and re-roof the building. The grand majority of those rentals, he said, go to people in the surrounding community.

"For the last four or five months, we've been operating in the red," said Browne. "We asked them, 'What other ideas do you have to raise money?' and they couldn't tell us nothing. Right now it seems as though this is two individuals who have taken this on as their cross to bear."

Montserrat is a small British-territory island among the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. The Montserrat Aspirer's Club was founded in Dorchester in 1974 by émigrés, well before a volcano on the island buried its capital city Plymouth in the mid 90s, causing a mass exodus of more than half of the isle's population. Browne estimates there are some 3,000 or 4,000 Montserratians living in Greater Boston. The club serves that community as well as the one surrounding the community center, said Browne, and partners with a local club for immigrants from Dominique, a sister island. The Aspirers offer scholarships, holds classes for PSAT tests, and provide a space for community events.

Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald also confirmed that a new sprinkler system was installed by July, in plenty of time to reach the final statewide deadline for adding the new systems on Nov. 15 this year.

The new law, passed in 2004, requires all barrooms, nightclubs and dance halls with occupancy over 100 persons to be equipped with a combined sprinkler and fire alarm system. It was created by a legislative committee in the wake of a deadly nightclub fire at The Station in Providence, Feb. 20, 2003.

While Yancey's office has taken the lead as an arbitrator in the neighborly dispute, Yancey's chief of staff Lynette Frazier lives in the immediate area and other residents say she has videotaped revelers in front of her house and found condoms in her front yard in the past.

According to Dot Joyce, Mayor Thomas Menino's press secretary, the Carnival permits had been approved before the July hearing, although a letter from Patricia Malone to Galloway of the club on Aug. 22 seems to inform her that the events have been approved, while adding that further events will not be until a resolution is reached. Carnival, of course, is a traditional holiday in Montserrat and the rest of the Caribbean. Khan and others said they were never informed of the previously approved Aug. 22 and Aug. 23 events, and were surprised to hear new late-night activity last weekend. "We don't feel like we have any real backing in the city," she said.

Browne, for his part, said he is ready to negotiate.

"We really have to sit down face to face with a mediator who can say there's a happy medium here," he said. "We've been here for 14 years from a time when nobody wanted to be here and I lived here. Now it gets a little better and you want to get rid of us? We're willing to work with them but they're not willing to work with us, that's the bottom line."

Khan said she would rather the club-style events stop completely, a return to the relative calm she saw before 2006.

"What I'm not going to deal with is a nightclub atmosphere on the street," she said.

Yancey could not be reached for comment in Denver this week.