Church appeals; neighbors fume

The controversy over a church based out of a two-family residential building on Ashmont Street is building up again after two years of inactivity with neighbors outraged that David Milien, pastor of the Eglise Baptiste H. Bon-Berger de Boston Church, is renewing his drive to hold services there.

Milien is appealing a decision by the Boston Inspectional Services Department to deny his request to expand the maximum occupancy of the building at 487-489 Ashmont St. from 32 to 108 people.

A hearing on his appeal will be held next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at 1010 Massachusetts Ave.

John Schneiderman, who lives across the street from the church, thinks that hearing will be just a formality to allow Milien to push against the community. “He’s just pushing and pushing and pushing, and he doesn’t seem to want to take ‘no’ for an answer. He won’t tell us why, but we just want to know why a certain number – 108 – when he has said he only has 60 people in his parish.”

When asked by the Reporter what he plans to do with the proposed additional occupancy of his church, Milien said, “If you go to 1010 [Mass. Ave. for the hearing], it will have my architect, you’ll see why.” Milien maintains that everything he has done has been legal. “The architect and the Boston architect and [at] 1010... these people there are not stupid people,” said Milien. “If that can’t be, they will not accept [the permit].”

Parking along Ashmont Street is always a nightmare, neighbors note, adding that an active church with weekend services and Sunday school will not help ease traffic. The church property has space for only eight vehicles, according to city records.

“Ashmont Street has been nothing but a cut-through, said Schneiderman, who has seen drivers hit bwtween 50 to 60 miles an hour on the road.
“When the church was in there that time [in 2006], they exhibited the fact that [there were] too many cars, too many people,” he said.

As part of his effort to expand the occupancy limit, Milien has asked the Boston School Department to allow parishioners going to services to use the parking lot of the Thomas J. Kenny Elementary School on Oakton Avenue. The school is approximately a third of a mile walk from the church. The Kenny School’s lot has been used for private parking in the past; a nearby Protestant church has been allowed to use the space for its annual carnival. Kenny School principal Suzanne Federspiel told the Reporter that she does not know if she will support Milien’s proposal and that to now she has not authorized any parking arrangement with Eglise Baptiste. Once the added parking matter is settled, said Milien, the city should allow the increase to the capacity of the building. He said he will continue to renovate the building and that he has already attained the proper permitting for his work.

“There is a policy that a church can be in a residential [setting] as long as it is permitted by 1010,” he said. “That is a law. Nobody can defy that law.”

Eglise Baptiste moved onto Ashmont Street in 2006 and began holding religious services there. Renovations began shortly thereafter. Milien installed a whirlpool-style baptismal pool and gutted the first floor entirely. After a backlash from neighbors over traffic, noise, and several building permit violations, he stopped holding services there.

Schneiderman said that he has observed work being done to the building since then; drywall was erected inside the building and exit signs were added to the upper story.

There were two community meetings in July at the Bostonian Nursing Home to discuss Eglise Baptiste’s plans for the site. City Councillor Maureen Feeney attended both meetings, as did Milien and his attorney.

“Under the Constitution, you cannot prohibit a church from opening its doors,” Feeney said in an interview with the Reporter. “The only oversight anyone has, really, is for occupancy and some kind of parking. I do think that his effort in this is really a futile effort.”

Milien said that he will continue his renovations and his stand against resistance from neighbors and city officials, Feeney specifically.

“She is the problem,” he said.