No agreement, no variance for auto shop

October 20, 2006
By

JOHN SWAN


Gazette Photo by John Swan
The exhaust pipe from Jamaica Plain Auto Body is a threatening sight to neighbors on Cranson Street.

HYDE SQ.—Cranston Street residents and Jamaica Plain Auto Body owner Matthew Hayes left the JP Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee meeting Sept. 14 optimistic that they reached an agreement that would finally end years of conflict over noise and noxious fumes.

But that optimism shattered following a breakdown in negotiations to come up with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Hayes and residents. On Oct. 10, because of the stalemate, Boston’s zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) voted unanimously against allowing the auto shop on Paul Gore Terrace to expand its facilities.

During a series of phone interviews afterwards, both sides admitted that no one is satisfied.

“The irony is that this leaves us back to square one. Matt can’t expand his business [as he planned] and we still have to deal with fumes and noise,” said Giulia Norton, a Cranston Street resident and spokesperson for the group. “We were trying to work out a compromise, but [Hayes] hasn’t been willing to do that all along.”


At the Sept. 14 meeting, residents and zoning committee members thought they had an agreement from Hayes to limit the hours they spray-paint cars, and, more importantly, obtain a temporary certificate of occupancy that would continue for one year after construction to ensure the new facility would indeed eliminate odors that residents living on the cliff above say have afflicted them for years.

Hayes called the ZBA ruling a “vote on politics, not facts.” He maintained no bank would ever give a loan to a project saddled with a temporary occupancy permit that could be rescinded if neighbors complained they still smelled fumes a year after construction.

If that happened he said, “I’d be $1 million in debt and out of business.”

Hayes also complained neighbors wanted to “attach [the permit] to my name [not the business], and I’d never be able to sell. They don’t want us here, period,” he said. “They had everything they wanted but chose the status quo over a huge improvement of at least 70-fold, according to our environmental study.

“So we plan to build as-of-right and clean up and modernize best we can,” he said. “This business has been here for 36 years and will be here for another 36 years.”

But “after spending close to $100,000 in legal fees, plans and testing,” and being turned down, Hayes said, “No wonder many businesses are leaving Boston.”

Residents opposed to the variance without an agreement were supported at the ZBA hearing by representatives from the Mayor’s Office, state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez and City Councilors John Tobin, Stephen Murphy and Sam Yoon. Two Paul Gore Street residents supported JP Auto Body’s expansion plans.

“We committed to Cranston Street residents early on,” said Jay Walsh, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, who went on to note Hayes’ “support by the JP Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee was contingent on the one-year temporary occupancy permit. Several different drafts of the MOU were passed around… but by the Friday before the hearing we were unable to get an agreement on the permit.” “I’m disappointed,” said JPNC Zoning Committee chair Kevin Leary, who was one of the members who brokered the original oral agreement. “We tried to work something out without pointing fingers at any one side. I’d like to see [Hayes] refile with the ZBA and work out a deal. No one’s happy. I’m sure the ZBA would expedite a hearing if the parties came to an agreement.”

Leary also said he has ordered a videotape of the Oct. 10 hearing to see for himself what happened.

Cranston Street resident Joan Ganon said she is “pleased with the ZBA’s ruling. It’s a good feeling being heard.” But, she admitted, “The status quo is not great. But the ball’s in [Hayes’] court.”

Resident Carla Osberg complained she still smells fumes and hears “incredibly loud noise,” but maintained she also does “not buy [Hayes’] assertion the new expansion will help.

“He reneged [on the agreement] and that’s the last straw for me,” she said, adding, “This neighborhood is pretty tight. We’re aware of what’s happening and plan to keep our noses and ears on the situation.”

Norton, Ganon and Osberg said they just learned of a city land swap program and would support the city helping Hayes move to another location.

“We looked into that, and it can’t be done,” Hayes asserted. “Our customer base is right here. We don’t want to move to another part of the city.”

As for more negotiations, “It’s over,” he said.