Oak Bluffs Hearing on Enlarged Garage Resumes Tomorrow

By CHRIS BURRELL

All set for Round Two of what has become a bruising political fight in Oak Bluffs, the zoning board of appeals could decide the fate tomorrow night of Joseph G. Moujabber's three-story garage in the North Bluff, a project that has enraged neighbors since last March.

The board meets Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging on Wamsutta avenue, continuing last week's public hearing that pulled in a feisty crowd of more than 70 people.

Two months after his building permit was revoked, Mr. Moujabber, an Oak Bluffs businessman who owns and operates Nancy's Restaurant with his cousin, Douglas Abdelnour Sr., is trying to salvage a nearly 3,000 square foot structure he had built in the backyard of a bungalow he owns at 10 Seaview avenue extension.

If he fails to convince zoning board members to overturn the permit revocation, Mr. Moujabber has a Plan B. He is also trying to gain approval for a building permit to move the structure ten feet to the east and connect it to the main house.

That application won't go forward without an okay from the North Bluff and Copeland Plan District Review Board, which is already set to consider the issue on July 29. Selectmen are looking for two residents from the North Bluff neighborhood to serve on that board.

Meanwhile, Oak Bluffs town counsel Ronald Rappaport last week issued a new legal opinion bolstering the town's position that the structure is illegal. He cited a similar zoning dispute two years ago in Clinton, where that town zoning board voted to rescind a permit to add a second floor to an existing garage. The Worcester Superior Court later upheld that decision.

Tomorrow night, the ZBA wants to see detailed plans from Mr. Moujabber and his Boston lawyer, Bruce Barnett, an associate in the firm of Piper Rudnick. They want to know the elevation of the building and exact setbacks from neighboring lot lines.

They also want to see Mr. Moujabber at the meeting. He did not attend last week's hearing where zoning board chairman Gail Barmakian, also an attorney, grilled Mr. Barnett about the project, specifically asking how it went from a $22,000 replacement of an existing garage to something so large.

Last fall, Mr. Moujabber told Oak Bluffs town officials that his building was for storage use only, not for living quarters. But by March, the so-called garage was more than 30 feet tall and fitted with porch decks and sliding glass doors.

In the aftermath of protests from neighbors, Mr. Rappaport drafted his initial legal opinion in May, saying the building permit shouldn't have been granted in the first place.

Oak Bluffs building inspector Richard Mavro ordered all work on the garage to cease and desist and revoked the permit he'd issued five months earlier. By June, Mr. Moujabber and lawyers from Boston had appealed the revocation.

Last week, the ZBA showed little sympathy. "Why are balconies and sliding glass doors necessary for storage space?" Ms. Barmakian asked.

Raising even more red flags, board members questioned why updated plans for a much more ambitious project weren't submitted along the way.

Mr. Barnett, who had no support from anyone else in the room, responded matter of factly that there was an "evolution," as the garage grew to a $200,000 project with visions of living space that would be applied for later on.

Last week's opinion from Mr. Rappaport challenged the appeal from Mr. Moujabber's other attorney, Michael Vhay, a partner at Piper Rudnick. Both Mr. Vhay and Mr. Barnett have argued that since the new structure was set further away from abutting lot boundaries, the project is less non-conforming and therefore allowable.

But from Mr. Rappaport's view, the project poses even deeper zoning issues. He argued that it is an accessory structure, not a residential one, and that since the old garage was moved off premises, a set of more stringent building codes would apply to the new construction.