The pastor running a church out of an Atlantic Street garage has decided against seeking municipal approval to legitimize the controversial house of worship that neighbors have complained has caused traffic problems and late-night noise, according to his attorney.
Jesus Sevilla withdrew his application seeking a certificate of occupancy from the Paterson Board of Adjustment on Thursday night. A dozen people from Atlantic Street attended the meeting to oppose the application.
“At this time we’re withdrawing the application,” Sevilla’s attorney Alan Mariconda told the board. His client sought to procure additional parking spaces to address some of the concerns raised by neighbors, but those plans did not materialize, said the attorney.
Some of the residents protesting Iglesia Jehova En El Monte Sinai came prepared with signs and poster boards to vehemently oppose the application, but were nonplussed by Mariconda’s announcement Sevilla is no longer interested in running a church from the rear garage of the two-family home.
“We’re only here for the application. The application no longer exists,” explained Marco Laracca when Luis Fierro, who lives on Atlantic Street, asked what will happen next. He explained the application was withdrawn “without prejudice.”
“This means he is not supposed to have service?” asked Fierro.
The church has been forbidden from operating by the order of the Paterson Fire Department. Fire officials declared the worship space an “imminent hazard.”
Political activist Ernest Rucker asked for the meaning of “without prejudice.” He asked whether this means Sevilla can return again before the board for approval.
“You could bring it back,” said Laracca. He said the church can submit a new application.
“I think that’s an issue here because it was done without permits. This whole scenario will go on and on and on,” said Rucker. He wanted the application withdrawn “with prejudice.”
Laracca said the board cannot preclude him from submitting a fresh application.
Mariconda said his client has no intentions of submitting a new application in the future for 157 Atlantic Street that includes a house of worship.
“It will not be a house of worship,” said Mariconda.
The residents of Atlantic Street viewed the withdrawal as a ruse.
“From my experience with him, I really don’t trust this gentleman,” said Karen Agosto, a resident of Atlantic Street, who has opposed the church on her residential street. “Maybe he is waiting to see how the elections come out.”
Sevilla is politically well-connected. He has used his political ties to even convince mayor Jane Williams-Warren to issue a memorandum, that expired in late January, urging inspectors not to take enforcement actions against the garage church.
“He is having services. He still has his pantry,” said Agosto.
Sevilla has organized protests against the city for ordering the closure of the garage church. He told the Paterson Times in late January he intends to comply with the fire department’s order.
Sevilla did not return a call for comment for this report.
The pastor was previously ticketed for operating the unsanctioned garage church. He was ordered to demolish the “unsafe structure” by Jun. 1, 2016 by the Community Improvement Division.
Sevilla did not demolish the building. Interference by political figures and instability in the Community Improvement Division has led to lack of further enforcement actions against the church.
The pastor has also taken on residents by filing questionable harassment charges in the Paterson Municipal Court against those opposed to the church. For example, he has pressed charges against Agosto and Rucker.
Sevilla has an active and growing congregation that in the next few years will require a much larger space than what is available at the garage. He appeared open to the suggestion to move the church to a bigger and non-residential area.
The pastor hoped the city would help him secure a building for his congregation. He said the controversy involving the church has thinned his membership. For example, the pastor has been providing assistance to some undocumented immigrants, who have stopped attending or seeking his assistance due to the controversy.
Many times, residents have called the police to complain about noise and blocked driveways.
The church has been at the location since 2009. It has a congregation of 80 people. The food pantry there serves 300-400 people a month, according to the pastor.