Controversial pastor Jesus Sevilla, who is attempting to legitimize a garage constructed behind his Atlantic Street house without permits, faced a barrage of questions before the Board of Adjustment on Thursday night.
Sevilla needs the board to approve an application letting him occupy the one-story structure behind 157 Atlantic Street as a home office with storage.
“Was there building permits issued?” asked planner Gary Paparozzi.
Sevilla’s attorney Alan Mariconda replied his client acknowledges the rear structure was built without permits.
Mariconda told the board a demolition order was issued by the city to remove the structure, but that order was later rescinded when his client submitted an application to the Board of Adjustment. Controversial construction official Gennaro “Jerry” Lobozzo, who has been criticized by members of the City Council for his questionable decisions, issued the order and then rescinded it.
Lobozzo issued a letter read out loud at the meeting stating Sevilla’s property does not have any violations. His letter claims there’s no activity at the site; however, neighbors have said Sevilla is allegedly running a food pantry out of the location. Some neighbors have photo evidence.
Paparozzi pointed out Sevilla’s garage encroaches on a neighbor’s property.
“It’s a foot and two inches over the property line,” said Paparozzi.
Sevilla claimed he has good relations with his neighbor, but the neighbor’s sister, among two dozen people against the pastor’s latest plan to use the unsanctioned building, objected to his assertion.
A dozen people attended the meeting to oppose Sevilla’s plans.
“Why did you build this structure prior to getting the proper permits?” asked board member Roger Grier.
“He made a mistake. That’s all behind us,” answered Mariconda.
Sevilla told the board he purchased the house in 1999. He said the garage was partially built when he purchased the two-family house.
“The garage must have been built then too? Unless you built the garage?” asked Paparozzi.
“It was partially,” answered Sevilla. He did the addon to the garage, he said, five or six years ago.
“Are there footings in the structure?” asked councilman Michael Jackson, who attended the meeting.
“I don’t know,” replied Sevilla’s architect Michael Romanik.
“A structure would definitely need to have footings in order to be sound and safe,” said Jackson.
Mariconda said once the board approves the application, Sevilla will have to submit construction plans to the building, engineering, and fire departments.
“Any issues regarding nature or strength of the structure would go through those regular city reviews,” said Mariconda.
Board member Jorge Soriano returned to the question of the garage encroaching on the neighbor’s property. He asked whether Sevilla had an agreement with the neighbor to build on her property.
“I have a great relationship with the owner,” answered Sevilla (pictured).
“Wait. Hold on. You’re seeking a variance for use for an encroachment without an easement, license?” asked board’s attorney Marco Larocca. “How are we going to give approval on a neighbor’s property when the neighbor isn’t here?”
Mariconda said that’s not an issue the Board of Adjustment has to address.
“If the neighbor has an issue with encroachment, he has to pursue his remedy,” said Mariconda.
“If the neighbor wants it removed it’s a civil matter,” said Paparozzi.
Sevilla’s application contained the site plan that he had submitted last year to legitimize his controversial church at the location. His latest plan simply shows church benches and other items removed.
It’s not a site plan for the home office and storage space, said Paparozzi. Sevilla said the storage area will be used to store toys, school supplies, and Christmas trees. It will also be used as recreation room for children to play board games and video games, said Sevilla.
Board member Leon Mondelli wanted true site plans for the home office and storage space.
“How could we possibly make a decision without that information?” remarked Mondelli. “You are not showing us what this building will be used for.”
Mondelli wanted Sevilla to present more information to the board. He suggested postponing the matter to a future meeting. Sevilla will return to the board with his application on Jun. 27.
In the meantime, Sevilla is barred from using the space, said Paparozzi.
Karen Agosto, who organized the opposition against Sevilla’s plans, asked whether Sevilla can use the space in the interim.
“The structure cannot be used as an office or storage currently. It can’t be used as a church,” answered Paparozzi.
Sevilla had used the space for a church. He eventually moved the church to a building on 6th Avenue, he said, following intense opposition from neighbors.