It's Not My Job to Monitor Compliance, Oak Bluffs Building Inspector Tells Board

By CHRIS BURRELL

Oak Bluffs selectmen said they wanted clarity, but Tuesday night's meeting with building inspector Richard Mavro shed almost no new light on how the replacement of a small garage on the North Bluff mushroomed into a three-story building.

Mr. Mavro - who issued the original permit for the building that ultimately enraged neighbors and triggered a series of zoning board of appeals hearings - simply repeated his assertion made last spring: The new zoning bylaws are confusing.

"The new zoning bylaws are ambiguous and have created tremendous problems," he told selectmen. "We need to delete the bylaw."

What Mr. Mavro never explained, despite some specific questioning from his bosses, was how Oak Bluffs businessman Joseph G. Moujabber could state one thing on his permit application and then build something else entirely.

Two selectmen asked Mr. Mavro point-blank how that happened.

"In this situation in the North Bluff, can you explain how we got from the original request for a small building to where we are?" asked selectman Greg Coogan.

Selectman Richard Combra also tried, posing this question to the building inspector: "I'm trying to gain some accuracy with the property in the North Bluff, how a structure of an estimated cost of $22,000 rose to the enormity of what it is."

Last month, Mr. Moujabber's Boston attorney told zoning board members that his client had communicated with Mr. Mavro as the garage project expanded, but Mr. Mavro mentioned nothing about updated plans or new applications and approvals.

Instead, he argued that once he issues a permit, it's not his job to monitor compliance until a homeowner calls him for an inspection.

"I have no right to tell anyone what to do," Mr. Mavro told selectmen. "As a citizen and taxpayer, I may not like it at all, but I'm kind of stuck. I can't cite someone for what they might do."

Last November, Mr. Moujabber's building permit application stated that he would replace a 240-square-foot garage and do the work himself at a cost of $22,000. Records in Mr. Mavro's office in town hall also state that the building would be used for storage only, not habitation.

By March, the new building in the backyard of Mr. Moujabber's bungalow on Seaview avenue extension was more than 30 feet tall, enclosing nearly 3,000 square feet of space and outfitted with four porch decks, an outdoor staircase and a series of sliding glass doors.

A sign outside the building also advertised the contractor's name, Wangler Construction.

Neighbors complained, hired an Edgartown attorney and filed an appeal with the ZBA of the original permit. Amid an increasing din of protest, Mr. Mavro defended the permit's legality but also issued a cease-and-desist order.

Then, in May, Oak Bluffs town counsel Ronald Rappaport drafted a legal opinion, arguing that while the new zoning bylaws are murky and not easily interpreted, the permit should have never been issued.

Mr. Mavro revoked the permit. Last month, the zoning board met twice to hear Mr. Moujabber's appeal of that revocation and ultimately sided with the building inspector, upholding his decision to revoke Mr. Moujabber's building permit.

The hearings were notable for a number of reasons. They drew massive crowds - more than 60 people - on two successive weeks. The ZBA, and particularly its chairman, Gail Barmakian, made little effort to conceal its contempt for how Mr. Moujabber behaved and how the building department appeared to exercise little oversight.

ZBA member William (Chuck) Sullivan criticized the "scantily filled-out building permit application."

When a resident questioned how someone could state intentions on a building permit application, knowing his plans were different, Mr. Sullivan wasted no time describing the action as perjury.

ZBA members declared the building illegal. They also expressed frustration that neither Mr. Moujabber nor the town's own building inspector bothered to show up for the hearings to answer questions.

Indeed, two weeks ago, selectman Kerry Scott asked her fellow board members the same question, wondering aloud why Mr. Mavro was absent from a zoning board hearing that directly involved his own actions.

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

But Tuesday, not one selectman asked Mr. Mavro why he failed to attend the ZBA hearings last month.

Selectmen did ask Mr. Mavro about a third floor deck at Nancy's Restaurant, a business co-owned by Mr. Moujabber and his cousin, Douglas Abdelnour Sr.

Mr. Mavro explained that he approved construction of the deck for the storage of a generator.

Mr. Combra tried another angle of questioning with the building inspector. "With the building and construction around our harbor, we know there's a harbor DCPC [district of critical planning concern]. How does an application in this area get referred to a [DCPC committee]?" he asked.

Again, Mr. Mavro skirted the question, saying simply that anyone from the board of selectmen can request such a referral but failed to explain why he might refer one project application and not another.

Selectmen didn't press their building inspector for a more thorough answer.

When they opened the floor to questions from the public, Mr. Wey asked townspeople "not to revisit" the North Bluff garage issue.

Dick Sherman attempted to pose a general question. "When someone violates your agreement, what do you do?" he asked.

"I ask them to remedy it," said Mr. Mavro. "But I'm not going to get into that. I won't talk about the North Bluff."

When Ann Margetson asked why the building inspector didn't refer the expansion of Nancy's Restaurant to the Martha's Vineyard Commission even though it involved the addition of more than 50 seats - one of the criteria for commission referral - Mr. Mavro also resisted.

"That's all been litigated. It's a moot issue, and I don't care to comment," he said.

More than 30 people attended Tuesday's meeting. The public hearing on considering the North Bluffs for inclusion in the Cottage City Historic District was postponed to August 17.

Mr. Mavro was asked to attend the selectmen's meeting this week in order to deliver his departmental report, part of a new policy instituted this year by selectmen chairman Roger Wey.

But Mr. Mavro instructed his administrative assistant Eliza Usher - hired last year - to handle the task of telling selectmen about the work processed by the building department.

"In the 2003 calendar year, there were 401 building permits, 46 of which were for single-family dwellings," said Ms. Usher. "Total receipts in the office totaled $145,500."

She said that new computer software has fostered more efficient permitting and the ability to track data. "We are going to be flooding you with monthly reports," Ms. Usher told selectmen. "We're aware of the fact that we've been derelict and delinquent in our reports."