Building Inspector to Face Questions by the Selectmen

By CHRIS BURRELL

Less than a week after the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals denounced the process that permitted a controversial three-story garage to be built on the North Bluff, Oak Bluffs selectmen now intend to ask their building inspector to explain publicly how it all happened.

"It's gotten to the point where it's of interest to everyone," said selectman Richard Combra at a regular meeting Tuesday afternoon. "We all have some questions about how we got where we are and where we're going."

Already scheduled to report to selectmen Tuesday night to deliver an update on his department's work, Oak Bluffs building inspector Richard Mavro will now face more pointed questions about how a simple garage replacement at 10 Seaview avenue extension turned into a structure resembling an apartment building - more than 30 feet tall with balconies and sliding glass doors.

Selectman Kerry Scott, who first raised the issue at Tuesday's meeting, also wants to know why Mr. Mavro failed to attend the two ZBA hearings this month on the project.

"It was his action being appealed. So many questions came up," said Ms. Scott. "It would have been helpful if he was there."

Mr. Mavro signed the garage construction permit in the first place, giving Oak Bluffs businessman Joseph G. Moujabber a green light last November to replace a 240-square-foot garage on Seaview avenue extension. Mr. Mavro then defended the permit last spring when the roughly 3,000-square-foot structure came under fire from a group of outraged neighbors.

After Oak Bluffs town counsel Ronald Rappaport issued a legal opinion in May determining the permit should have never been issued, Mr. Mavro revoked Mr. Moujabber's building permit.

Last week, the zoning board of appeals - whose two hearings this month pulled in crowds of more than 60 people on each occasion - unanimously upheld the revocation and declared the garage in the backyard of Mr. Moujabber's bungalow illegal.

But more than just siding with the revocation, zoning board members laid the groundwork for a critique of how Mr. Mavro handled the Moujabber project, referring to a "scantily filled-out" application and the lack of detailed building plans that showed setbacks and elevations.

ZBA chairman Gail Barmakian questioned the veracity of the application on which Mr. Moujabber stated his construction costs would amount to only $22,000 and that he would do the work himself.

Mr. Moujabber's Boston attorney claimed that his client had numerous meetings with the Oak Bluffs building department to revise plans for the burgeoning garage project, but there was no paper trail - updated applications or building plans - to back up his claims.

Mr. Mavro was absent from the meeting and couldn't answer questions about how the garage evolved.

Now, selectmen are poised to take advantage of the chance to ask Mr. Mavro to explain what happened.

"We have a right and need to know," said Mr. Combra, who added that he would also like to ask Mr. Mavro about a third floor addition recently built at Nancy's Restaurant on the harbor. The restaurant is coowned by Mr. Moujabber and his cousin, Douglas Abdelnour Sr.

"People have asked me about the third floor at Nancy's. My assumption is that it has a proper permit," said Mr. Combra. "I would like to hear from him about the North Bluff and Nancy's."

Selectman Michael Dutton agreed that his board needs some clarity.

"There's a great misperception about the zoning bylaws, what they mean, how they're applied. People ask, ‘How could we allow such a flagrant violation of the zoning bylaws?'' said Mr. Dutton. "But what is the zoning violation?"

Mr. Mavro, who is appointed by the selectmen, has been the Oak Bluffs building inspector and zoning enforcement officer since 1989. Until last year, he was appointed for one-year terms but voters amended a bylaw allowing selectmen to appoint him for three-year terms. His latest appointment expires in April 2006.

"We are his supervisors," said Mr. Combra. "And it would be very healthy [to ask him these questions]."

But selectmen also urged some restraint, agreeing they would alert Mr. Mavro before Tuesday about their intentions to ask him detailed questions about the Moujabber project.

"It's not fair to blindside him," said Mr. Combra.

"We need to be careful. Feelings are running pretty high," said Ms. Scott. "This is not an opportunity to take pot-shots at Dick either."

To date, Mr. Mavro has said little publicly about the project that has stirred up so much controversy and created considerable political tension in town.

Back in April, he attended a ZBA hearing on the case and defended his granting of the permit to Mr. Moujabber, arguing that because the new structure was set further away from the neighboring lot lines, it was less nonconforming and therefore permissible under town zoning codes.

"My issuance of the permit was based on the bylaws. I cannot presume what someone may or may not use it for," Mr. Mavro told the ZBA in April. "Right now it is a nonhabitable structure, and it will remain that way unless [the builder] goes to the planning board for further permits."

Mr. Rappaport, in his opinion drafted in May, acknowledged that the bylaws are murky but also argued that garage needs to be interpreted not as a residential structure but as an accessory structure, subjecting it to stricter codes.

"It is my understanding from the building inspector that the situation before you is the first significant matter to which he had applied [this section] since the town adopted the recodified zoning bylaws. I am constrained to point out that [the section] is ambiguous in certain respects. Those two factors may have led, in part, to the present situation," Mr. Rappaport wrote.

Next Tuesday's meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging on Wamsutta avenue, will also feature a public hearing on the possible inclusion of the North Bluff neighborhood in the Cottage City Historic District.