The city’s Community Improvement division issued a notice of unsafe structure that called for the demolition of the controversial Atlantic Street garage constructed without permits, but thirteen days later the order was rescinded, according to municipal records.
The notice issued on May 19, 2016 ordered pastor Jesus Sevilla, the owner 157 Atlantic Street, to demolish the structure or correct the problem by Jun. 1, 2016. On the day Sevilla had to demolish or correct the issue, construction official Gennaro “Jerry” Lobozzo wrote over the notice “rescinded” and signed his name.
It’s not clear why Lobozzo rescinded the demolition order. He did not enter the revised notice into the system until Apr. 1, 2019, when economic development Michael Powell inquired about the Atlantic Street issue.
Lobozzo did not respond to a call for comment for this story.
Powell acknowledged the problem with a division issuing clashing orders. He is taking steps to address the situation so something similar does not happen in the future, he said, but could not provide specifics because it involves personnel.
Powell became economic development department director less than a year ago. He found a Community Improvement division that’s at conflict with itself. The division’s director David Gilmore and Lobozzo are often at odds with each other. Former mayor Jose “Joey” Torres allowed the construction official to report to the economic development director rather than the community improvement director as has historically been the case.
Some members of the City Council have criticized Lobozzo over the years for his decisions. Lobozzo famously testified against the city in a municipal court case. He claimed a certificate of occupancy exists when a structure is occupied contrary to the plain language in a municipal ordinance.
Lobozzo’s decision to rescind the order continues to frustrate neighbors. Since he rescinded the order, dozens of neighbors had to repeatedly appear before the Paterson Board of Adjustment to object to Sevilla’s plans to legitimize the rear garage structure.
Sevilla at first used the garage on a residential street as a church, creating traffic and parking problems for his neighbors. After protests, he withdrew his application from the zoning board and relocated the church.
Sevilla spent approximately $33,000 to build the structure, he said. He is now attempting to obtain zoning approval to use the garage as a home office and for storage.
Sevilla’s zoning application is scheduled for a hearing at City Hall tonight.
“The church was already moved seven months ago,” said Sevilla. He does not understand why neighbors are still opposing him, he said.
Sevilla said he is paying for the consequences of constructing the garage without permits. He claims a smaller garage existed at the site and that he expanded it. However, his neighbor, Karen Agosto, has shown Google Earth satellite images from past years that do not show a garage at the site.
His garage also infringes on a neighbor’s property. Sevilla said this neighbor has not complained to him.
“Give me the demolition order and I’ll do it,” said Sevilla. “Even if I demolish it, she’ll still bother me.”
Sevilla is referring to Agosto.
“There’s nothing to give me reasons to question besides the garage,” said Agosto.
Sevilla said he “trusted the wrong people” when he built the garage. The once politically connected pastor said city officials mislead him. He claims mayor Andre Sayegh, who held multiple meetings at his garage church, promised to issue a certificate of occupancy legitimizing the garage when he was campaigning for the city’s top job last year.
Sayegh has distanced himself from the pastor. Other officials also cut their ties with Sevilla.