Four Corners Main Streets and the United Neighborhood Association (UNA) have both fired off letters to the Inspectional Services Department and the Zoning Board of Appeal railing against what they say is the legalization of an auto repair shop at the stroke of one inspectorâ€™s penâ€”in contradiction to zoning laws that have prevented it for years.
In focus is Boriqua Custom Exhaust at 13 Bowdoin St., which occupies a building that for years has been termed a â€œservice station and lubritoriumâ€ by ISD. Since at least the 80s, the propertyâ€™s various owners have tried to change that use to â€œauto repair shopâ€ but have consistently failed at the Zoning Board of Appeals or have withdrawn their applications.
In recent years, ISD staff, including assistant commissioner Darryl Smith and code enforcement officer Colleen Kennedy, have worked with neighborhood groups through the Neighborhood Response Team to try and put a stop to auto repairs that had started taking place at 13 Bowdoin after years of laying silent.
â€œThe current owner bought the building in 2000 shortly after I came to Four Corners Main Street,â€ wrote Main Streets director Shelly Goehring in a letter to ISD commissioner Bill Good. â€œFor the first five years (about), he barely used the building and certainly did not operate it as a full-blown auto repair shop.â€
Those ISD efforts to stop the illegal use seemed to take a 180 degree turn on April 15, when ISD inspector Luis Santana approved a long form application filed by business owner Edward Suarez, effectively changing the legal use from service station to â€œrepair shop and garage.â€
â€œWeâ€™re appealing this because weâ€™ve been working with ISD for years to end the illegal use there,â€ said Four Corners Main Streets director Shelly Goehring. â€œWeâ€™re trying to follow through to get business owners to follow local zoning rules.â€
The shop also sits on Bowdoin and Washington Streets, arguably at the center of Four Corners, where some residents hope for a business that would cater more to local shopping needs.
â€œThe residents of the UNA have desperately been trying to solicit responsible business professionals that will bring with them the type of business that will allow an economic rebirth in our community,â€ wrote Jamaal Leek, chair of United Neighborhood Association, in a letter to ZBA chairman Robert Shortsleeves. â€œThe UNA does not feel that another auto body shop in the neighborhood will allow this type of prosperity.â€
Lisa Timberlake, spokesperson for ISD, argued that the term â€œlubritoriumâ€ includes auto repair under the old zoning code that was in place in 1949, when the building was first put up as a Texaco station. Other ISD sources have said that auto repair is included under the use â€œservice station.â€ But neither argument seems to hold water.
Goehring consulted city archives going back to changes in the zoning code in both the 1920s and the 1960s, and both, she said, include both the â€œservice stationâ€ and â€œrepair stationâ€ designations. And a lubritorium, according to the Collins Dictionary of English is â€œa place, as in a service station, for the lubrication of motor vehicles,â€ and nothing more.
â€œYou can imagine how difficult it is to keep residents of Boston engaged in their communities when this is how they are treated by city departments,â€ wrote Goehring in her letter to commissioner Good. â€œOne side of ISD is working on our behalf; the other seems to make its own rules.â€
Timberlake, confronted with these matters of the historic record, said she would investigate and call back with an explanation, but did not do so before the Reporterâ€™s press time.