FOREST HILLS—The Bicon dental business at 501 Arborway is not allowed to have a lab and training facilities after all, the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) decided last month in citing Bicon for violating the occupancy code.
It was an abrupt change from ISD, which has told neighbors for more than a year that the Bicon lab and training courses either are allowed uses or—despite being widely advertised—do not exist at all.
“If they are going to have training, it’s a conditional use, which triggers a community process,” said David Isberg, chief of staff for City Councilor John Tobin. That process, he said, might include reconvening a December Boston City Council hearing that examined ISD’s permitting of mysterious and controversial construction at Bicon.
ISD spokesperson Lisa Timberlake and Bicon chief Dr. Vincent Morgan did not return Gazette phone calls for this article.
David Vaughn, a nearby resident on Yale Terrace, said neighbors are relieved by the decision, but still have many other questions. Next Tuesday, he and other residents will go before the city’s zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) to get its expert interpretation of ISD’s controversial decisions.
“[ISD] should be bending over backward to help us after hosing us,” Vaughn said.
Bicon, whose official address in city records is 123 Morton St., was cited Feb. 21 by ISD for “failure to secure building permit to change building legal occupancy” from regular office use to “professional offices, clinical lab, education and medical training,” according to an ISD document.
ISD ordered Bicon to apply for a building permit to change the “legal occupancy.”
But it is unclear whether Bicon has done so and whether that would involve public input.
“They already have the [original] occupancy permit,” Vaughn noted, adding that he has his own opinion of what Bicon should do. “They need to stop [the disallowed uses] until they go back and go through the proper processes,” he said.
Bicon, an internationally known dental implant company, has drawn community complaints for unexplained construction and expansion for at least four years.
The controversy went public in 2006, when Bicon proposed creating an Italian restaurant on the third floor of its building. At the time, Bicon was seeking to have the area permitted as a company cafeteria, according to Tobin’s office. Community opposition killed the plan.
But controversy has continued about other issues, and ISD’s responses have often varied.
For example, there is the issue of Bicon’s proximity to the Arborway, which is technically state parkland. Residents say the Bicon construction should have been reviewed by the Boston Parks Commission under two separate mechanisms.
One is a city code that requires minor Parks Commission review of development within 100 feet of parkland. The other is an official “greenbelt protection overlay district” (GPOD) that extends 500 feet on either side of the Arborway and requires full-scale review of major projects within it.
Vaughn said ISD officials told neighbors five different times that the Bicon building is not within 100 feet of the Arborway, though map measurements indicate otherwise.
But in a Feb. 8 letter to City Councilor Bill Linehan, who chaired the council hearing about Bicon, ISD Commissioner William Good acknowledged, “The Bicon Dental building does sit within 100 feet of a parkway and the plans should have been reviewed by the Parks Department.”
Good added that the review would happen soon, but amounts to a look at landscaping.
If Bicon is within 100 feet of the Arborway, one might assume it must also be within 500 feet of the Arborway—in the GPOD. But, ISD continues to say, a Boston Redevelopment Authority map of the GPOD shows Bicon outside its boundaries.
Vaughn said the GPOD statute refers strictly to distance, not to a city map.
“The map is wrong,” Vaughn said. “The legislation is clear.”
That is one of several confusing issues residents will bring before the ZBA on March 25.
Isberg said Tobin’s office views it as a slow process of digging for the facts behind ISD’s decisions.
“We’re chipping away at little things,” he said.