ISD to review dental building one more time

May 1, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

FOREST HILLS—The city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) will review the controversial Bicon dental building at 501 Arborway yet again, responding to pressure from about 30 residents at a sometimes heated commu-nity meeting this week.

If ISD finds violations on either of two possible “conditional uses” under the zoning code—a clinical dental lab and a large sign erected on the Arborway—the result could be a public hearing attended by Bicon representa-tives, which neighboring residents have been seeking for years.

“You’ve raised two legitimate items” on those issues, ISD Commissioner William Good told residents at the April 27 meeting at Franklin Park Villa next door to Bicon. He promised a review in “weeks, not months” and said he would come to another community meeting to explain the findings.

Bicon officials apparently did not attend the meeting, or did not announce their presence or make any state-ments if they did. A Gazette call this week to Bicon chief Dr. Vincent Morgan’s direct phone number was answered by a man who identified himself as “V.J.” When this reporter identified himself, the man said only, “Thank you…Have a nice day,” and hung up.

City Councilor John Tobin, who has long advocated for the residents’ position, told the Gazette after the meeting that the new ISD review is “a little bit of progress. The odyssey continues.”

Tobin noted that ISD officials and residents indicated aggravation with each other during the meeting. “Obvi-ously, the people who are the catalyst for all this is Bicon,” Tobin said, noting Bicon officials were not there and have repeatedly declined to meet with residents. “That’s who everybody should be angry at.”

The announced purpose of the meeting, organized by the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (ONS), was to explain ISD’s often mysterious permitting of Bicon major construction projects at its property, which is offi-cially known as 123 Morton St. ISD has variously cited Bicon for violations; said there are no violations; and said violations were fixed with no explanation of how. ISD officials have also acknowledged various “oversights” and have sometimes overlooked obvious facts related to the permitting process, such as how far the Bicon build-ing is from the Arborway.

Much of the meeting’s heat was due to ISD largely not explaining those decisions. Gary Moccia, the head of ISD’s building division, frequently made what appeared to be circular arguments, essentially saying that any violations are fixed because they are fixed. Residents alternately fumed and laughed at what resident David Vaughn later called Moccia’s “‘Alice in Wonderland’” logic.

At the same time, Good warned that the residents could be using “Catch-22” logic of their own, viewing solu-tions as problems so that ISD can never win. “You want the language [of ISD documents] to be the problem,” Good told resident Jerry O’Connor at one point, accusing him of making semantic arguments.

In one of the stranger exchanges, Moccia repeatedly insisted ISD has been “very consistent” in its findings, even after Vaughn gave a detailed presentation of completely contradictory ISD opinions on one issue at Bicon. Moccia indicated that he meant consistency in terms of ISD’s end-result statements that nothing is wrong with the Bicon building.

“When we think of ISD, we think of an entity that [would be] consistent within itself,” Vaughn said.

“No, don’t think that!” Moccia exclaimed, causing audience laughter though he appeared to be serious.

“If we’re supposed to take one person’s word at ISD more than another person at ISD, we’ve got a bigger problem than Bicon dental,” Vaughn replied.

But there was enough mutual understanding for Good to promise a second look at key issues.

Moccia explained that the ISD permitting of the Bicon sign was based on the assumption it was there when Bi-con moved in. But neighbors say Bicon built it. If that’s true, “You have a point,” Moccia said, promising to “research” the situation.

The lab use decision remained unexplained, though more information came out about it, shocking the residents. ISD cited the lab as a zoning violation last year. But this year, Moccia previously told the Gazette, the lab use is allowed under zoning.

At the meeting this week, Moccia said that decision was based on a previously unknown second inspection that overruled the first. Moccia said he had no record of that inspection with him and could not promise that such a record even exists anywhere. He also could not describe the rationale for the new decision.

When O’Connor protested that such an explanation was the entire point of the meeting and criticized Moccia for not having the inspection record with him, Moccia said, “You didn’t ask for it.”

“Ask for something we didn’t know exists?” replied an audience member.

Good promised a new review of the lab use to clarify the situation.

Good, who said he walked around the Bicon property before the meeting, said he agreed with residents’ con-cerns about a lesser item: the condition of Bicon’s Dumpster.

“The Dumpster will be done…We’ll help you take care of the Dumpster,” Good said, without specifying exactly what he saw as wrong with it. Its location and cleanliness have been raised as issues previously by residents.

Also attending the meeting was ONS Director Jay Walsh, who spoke quietly with Good at times during the dis-cussion, and local ONS representative Colleen Keller.

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