The pastor of the controversial Atlantic Street church, which was ordered to cease operating out of a residential garage, has moved service to nearby School 8. Pastor Jesus Sevilla said his church has been holding service at the neighborhood school for the past two Sundays.
“I wanted to be in peace with the neighbors,” said Sevilla on Monday when asked about the move. His growing church attracts more than 100 people every Sunday causing noise, traffic, and parking problems for residents, according to neighbors.
Sevilla is still holding his weekday services at the house, according to neighbors. He has ceased using the rear garage following a fire department order declaring it an “imminent hazard,” he said. However, neighbors said the pastor has been using a basement that’s part of his main residence to hold religious gathering.
Karen Agosto, a neighbor, who opposes the church on her residential street, said the pastor’s move is a “trick” and a “ruse.” She said he is waiting for attention on the church to die down before he resumes operation out of the garage.
Sevilla would not say for how long he intends to use the school building for Sunday services.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” replied Sevilla. He had to purchase $1 million worth of insurance coverage as a condition to use the school, he said. The premium is approximately $700 per year, he said. He is also paying fees to use the school space.
The school district did not provide a response to questions seeking details of the arrangement.
The pastor has been using the rear garage as a church since 2009. He did not have a problem until neighbors began to complain. In 2016, the city issued a violation and told him to demolish the makeshift structure.
Sevilla continued to use the space for a church. Late last year, he submitted an application to the Board of Adjustment seeking to legitimize the garage as a church. However, he withdrew the application earlier in the month.
While his application was pending, zoning officials told him to cease operations until approval is granted. However, Sevilla continued to operate. He briefly received protection from violation as a result of a memo issued by the mayor that expired in late January. Once the mayor’s moratorium expired, fire inspectors visited the structure and discovered violations. His church was declared an “imminent hazard” and ordered to close.
Sevilla’s attorney has said his client has no plans to submit a new application to use the two-family building as a church in the future. Sevilla has indicated he is looking to purchase a building elsewhere for his church.
On Monday, Sevilla said he needs $80,000 for a down payment to purchase a building for his church. His congregation does not have the funds, he said.
Sevilla has angered his neighbors by allegedly targeting them using harassment complaints. Dozens of neighbors have opposed the church.
“I just want a resolution. Not a temporary, but a permanent [resolution],” said Agosto on Monday morning.
“To make her happy I moved my service to the school,” said Sevilla. He has downplayed the opposition against his church placing blame on Agosto and another neighbor.