‘No merit’ to church appeal, says board

By 
Sue Asci, Special to the Reporter
Oct. 22, 2009

The Boston Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously on Tuesday to deny an appeal filed by the Eglise Baptise H. Bon-Berger de Boston Church to expand the maximum occupancy of its Ashmont Street site from 32 to 108 people.

“This case before us has no merit,’ said Zoning Board Chairman Robert Shortsleeve.

Edward T. Johnson, the architect for the church’s renovation project, appeared before the board but had no comment on the decision following the meeting. David Milien, pastor of the church, was not available for comment at press-time.

The church, which is located in a two-family residential building at 487-489 Ashmont St., has been undergoing renovations. Milien appealed a decision by the Boston Inspectional Services Department that set the occupancy limit at the site to 32 people.

In effort to expand the church’s parking capacity to allow more people to attend church services, Milien had asked the Boston School Department for permission to allow church-goers to use the parking lot of the Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School, located near the church.

“The School Department cannot grant permanent parking,” said Maureen Feeney, city councillor representing the district. “What they [the church] were seeking was permanent off-site auxiliary parking. That was the basis of their appeal.”

In previous community meetings, neighbors had expressed concern about traffic, noise, and safety issues that could result if the organization was allowed to expand its capacity.

Some 15 neighbors attended the hearing. “We have more than 50 letters with over 100 signatures opposing this,” Feeney told the board. “We have taken him [Milien] to other sites in the city where churches are holding services in community centers.”

Feeney also expressed concern that the petitioner had said they wanted another community meeting. The issue has already resulted in dozens of community meetings over a three-year period, she said.

“We have worked diligently with Pastor Milien to help him find other location and identify community centers that could be used,” Feeney said in an interview with the Reporter. “We understand he wants to build a church and we want to help him do that. I am so distraught that after three years of community meetings that he could be so insulting to this community who spent endless hours trying to help him to move out of this residential house to a site that is more appropriate.”

Once an appeal is denied, the petitioner must wait one-year before refiling, according to the zoning board’s website.

“We will be sending a letter from elected representatives and the mayor’s office to the architect to find out what the status is and what their plans are,” she said.

The church began holding services at the Ashmont Street location three years ago. Once renovations began, the pastor began holding services in another location.