An uneasy fit: Oil company, Urban Wild combo jarring to some

It was once a crime-ridden, trashed out lot, but today a network of gravel paths is weaving through newly cleared brush and finding the occasional granite bench. Over $400,000 of work is nearing completion at the Geneva Cliffs Urban Wild, beautifying the intersection of Geneva Avenue and Bowdoin Street. But just to the right of the park's entrance stands what some see as a fly in the ointment, the Star Five Oil Company, a decidedly non-nature-friendly flaw in the overall vision.

In the eyes of Star Five co-owner James Patterson though, the area would not be as quiet and relatively crime-free as it is now if he and his brothers hadn't moved their business there in 1993.

"We've been in the neighborhood a long time. We employ a lot of the kids and keep them out of trouble. They look up to us as role models," said Patterson. "We keep this area clean. If you put a park up there and don't clean up the neighborhood, it's just going to be a meeting area for all kind of drugs, it's just going to be a way to get away from the cops."

Star Five's fleet of oil trucks are currently the flashpoint of the disagreement. The Inspectional Services Department has cited the company for parking oil trucks on the wild several times, as their permit to do so expired in 1998. The company asked for a zoning variance to park the trucks in December but was denied. Now a case in the housing court brought by ISD is underway, seeking an injunction to make Star Five pay its violations and stop parking on the wild.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the park's entrance a vacant piece of land has been put on the market by owner Carol Drayton, tempting community activists with the possibility of expanding the park even more.

"Ultimately what we want is, if the city can get its hands on Star Five and get Carol Drayton's property, that whole area will be totally transformed," said Davida Andelman, who is active in both the Greater Bowdoin Geneva Association and the Geneva Avenue Working Group. "There's a possibility of making that whole intersection beautiful."

Both the mayor's office and the Boston Redevelopment Authority have met with Patterson before, trying to help the company move, but Patterson said none of the solutions he talked over with them seemed economically viable. Now, everything seems to hinge on the case in court.

The two parties are scheduled to appear tomorrow, possibly to negotiate a settlement, according to those familiar with the case, but the ISD is said to be under orders not to settle. The outcome, it seems, will depend on how housing court Judge MaryLou Muirhead interprets a tangled legal history.

"When [former City Councillor Dapper] O'Neil was there, when we got the permit, his stipulation was that if the city didn't have any complaint in five years it was grandfathered in," said Patterson. "But then they came 12 years later and say you don't have a permit."

Patterson's attorney is arguing that a 1995 city-approved re-zoning of the property to allow an office-building use gives Star Five the right to "ancillary parking," and the trucks would fall under this definition.

The ISD counter-argues that the approval the city gave for the 1995 re-zoning was subject to the permit Star Five originally got in 1993 to allow the truck parking, and that expired in 1998. Star Five failed to renew it, so ISD contends the parking is illegal.

Local activist Davida Andelman added in a phone interview that the community was never notified of the 1995 zoning change, as is customary when such changes are proposed.

Further court dates in the case have yet to be set.