Skip to main content

The Yankee Express

26-Bed Refugee Shelter and Church are Proposed for Beacon Street in Webster

Proposed site

By Janet Stoica

According to public records a refugee shelter and church are proposed to be built on Beacon Street in Webster. The street is a short thoroughfare with limited egress and the lot, which has already been cleared, is located on the right side of Beacon Street which is near the Golden Greek Restaurant. The three-story building with full basement is proposed by the Reverend Kalimbiro Akeem Bujiriri of the Jesus Center of Good News (“JCGN”) organization.  Their offices are located at 345 Main Street in Oxford and they are registered as a non-profit 501(c)(3) group. 
Rev. Bujiriri’s project description states that the JCGN shelter will “help to satisfy the primary needs of refugees and immigrants aiming to intervene by applying strategies that consist of providing them shelter and food and building them affordable rental houses for them to own (rent-to-own) being integrated into the American dream. Also, the JCGN plans to help with other refugees and immigrant-related needs for their temporary care. They also seek to outreach to low-income people in Webster and Worcester County.”
Architectural site plans, drawn up by 8TFive Studio of East Freetown MA, also detail rooms for offices, classrooms, prayer and meditation, recreation and social events, a fitness/gym, a kitchen, showers, and bedrooms. 
Webster’s Town Engineer, Chuck Eaton, has reviewed site plans and has itemized his comments as they pertain to Webster’s zoning bylaws. Mr. Eaton indicates that 42 parking spaces have been proposed with 31 provided; an erosion control plan and drawing must be submitted as well as proposed lighting plans and fixtures; landscaping; zoning variances; solid waste disposal; sanitary main connections which must be coordinated with Webster’s Water and Sewer Departments; storm water systems as well as drainage calculations; and groundwater recharge calculations. 
According to the Town Administrator Rick LaFond, after clearing the site without notice to the town or abutters, the Fire Chief and Building Commissioner ordered Reverend Bujiriri to remove stumps and brush left on the property as they were determined to be a fire hazard. 
Webster’s Planning Board has been involved in ongoing meetings with the site developer, property owners abutting the site, and department heads to ensure that the town’s zoning bylaws are being followed. There is also possible consideration of the state’s Dover Amendment which, according to the Mass. Municipal Association, asserts that “if an owner or developer believes its project is entitled to Dover Amendment protection, its first step is to make a two-part showing to the local building inspector. First, the applicant must demonstrate that the proposed use of the property is for ‘religious’ or ‘educational’ purposes. When it comes to houses of worship or classrooms, this showing will be relatively straightforward. When it comes to a parking garage or half-way house, however, the purpose of the proposed use may not be so easily discerned. Second, the applicant must demonstrate that the proposed use of the property for ‘religious’ or ‘educational’ purposes is not a mere ancillary use but, rather, the dominant or primary one. Again, such a showing may not be immediately evident. The burden will be on the applicant to prove that the regulation of its proposed religious or educational use is unreasonable. The Dover Amendment does not apply to non-zoning regulations concerning public health, safety or the environment, such as Board of Health regulations, the State Building Code, the State Plumbing Code, or state or local wetlands protections. Such regulations are still enforceable regardless of an applicant’s proposed religious or educational use.”
Rev. Bujiriri also wants to obtain Rosemont Street to give him access to the back of the building as fire apparatus would not be able to access the rear of the facility. Rosemont Street is, essentially, a “paper street” which is a private property. He will have the burden of proof to establish who the original owner was as you cannot annex a piece of land that you do not own. As more than 70% of the cleared property has been disturbed, per zoning laws, a special permit is now required. Webster’s Planning Board has now given the organization until August 26, 2024 to submit a new site plan.