House-church still flashpoint on Ashmont St.

Several complaints were made to the city’s Inspectional Services Department in recent weeks about parking beyond the allowed capacity at the Eglise Baptise H. Bon-Berger de Boston Church at 487-498 Ashmont Street. And elected officials are now threatening court action if the violations continue.

The congregation’s pastor, Rev. David Milien, said he is trying to monitor the parking and added that he believes the complaints are being made because neighbors do not want the church there.
“We are being terrorized by the people in the neighborhood,” Milien said. “The police came in the middle of services last Sunday [Jan. 24] and were banging on the door. The police officer was polite, but it scared people. When I came out, I said to the people with extra cars to move them out. I told them you’ll get a ticket or the neighborhood will complain about it.”

The church is located in a two-family residential building, which was purchased in 2006. It has been the focus of numerous community meetings as neighbors have expressed concerns about traffic, noise, and safety. The maximum occupancy allowed is 32 people and the site is zoned for eight parking spaces.

Last October, the pastor sought permission from the city to increase the maximum occupancy to 108 and expand the parking with a proposal to use the nearby Kenny School for any overflow. But the petition was denied by the zoning board of appeals. See related story here from October 2009.

In recent weeks, the parking issue emerged again.

On Jan. 17, a code enforcement officer from the city’s Inspectional Services Department issued a ticket at the site after finding four unregistered vehicles parked there, said ISD spokeswoman Lisa Timberlake. Also, there were 11 cars parked at the church and the officer had the owners move the extra cars out, she said.
Two more complaint calls were made to ISD on Jan. 24, but when the code enforcement officer arrived, there were no cars there, ISD reported.

Milien said the church is not in violation of the allowed occupancy. “I am not doing anything illegal there,” he said. Regarding the parking, he said he is trying to manage it.

“I see people come alone in a car and I ask them to move the cars. I tell visitors, if you don’t know, I can only have eight parking spaces,” Milien said. “I am concerned about the parking, too. I told them [parishioners] not to park on Ashmont Street. You cannot know what’s going on outside when you are inside the church.”

Many congregants are coming to pray, particularly for Haiti, said Milien. “We have a problem in Haiti right now. People need to pray. One woman lost her husband and three children in the earthquake.”
Reacting to a comment that neighbors at past community meetings have expressed concern about noise, Milien said: “We don’t use a drum [in the services]. We don’t even use a microphone. We only use our voices for singing. They [the neighbors] don’t want us there.”

He said that he has asked his neighbors to call him with any problems, but they do not contact him directly.

“Before I opened the church I sent each of them a letter and sent them my cell phone number and e-mail. I said if something happens, call me. I do not have any problem with the neighborhood. I have respect for them. If they want to have a meeting, they can use the church. My neighbors know I am wide open to talk to them, sit down and negotiate. I am an example to lead the people to God.”

On Jan. 25, Milien said, he met with City Councillor Maureen Feeney, state Rep. Martin Walsh, staff from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and from state Sen. Jack Hart’s office to talk about recent complaints.

“Maureen [Feeney] is the problem. She is doing it for three to four people in the neighborhood,” Milien said. Feeney denied that the complaints are due to discrimination or based on just three or four people who do not want the church there.

“We have had community meetings where 60 people attended,” Feeney said. “It’s a very mixed neighborhood and race has nothing to do with it.”

About the meeting, she said, “Nothing was resolved. He told us that he is going to grow his church. He said, ‘You have stopped me from parking.’ I said, ‘That’s right, it’s a residential area.’ ”
Last week, the elected officials and the mayor’s office representative sent Milien a certified letter, Feeney said.

“We acknowledged that this is a difficult time in the Haitian community. But there are continued violations. Our recommendation is that he join with another church until he can dispose of that property,” Feeney said. “If he continues to accrue violations, we will be forced to bring him to housing court. We are not looking to do that. This world definitely needs more God [in it]. But we cannot have people in blatant violation.”

Feeney said she suggested that Milien consider joining with another church and turning the Ashmont Street property back into a two-family residential site. Then he could sell it.

Milien said he doesn’t plan to stay in the site permanently. “We need some time to get some money and go somewhere else,” he said.
The church bought the property in 2006 and put in $120,000 in renovations, he said. The mortgage is $4,000 per month, he added.
Services are held on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and again from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for a smaller group. A Bible study is held on Tuesday night, he said.