Town Wins Round in Moujabber Case

Superior Court Judge in Dukes County Upholds Decision to Revoke Permit for Illegal North Bluff Garage

By IAN FEIN

Marking a significant step in the saga surrounding the three-story garage owned by Joseph G. Moujabber in Oak Bluffs, a Dukes County Superior Court judge this week ruled that the town zoning board of appeals and building inspector were correct when they revoked the building permit for the structure.

While the decision resolves only the first in a series of lawsuits related to the embattled garage in the North Bluff district of town, it represents a key win for the town and neighbors because all the other cases challenge actions that stemmed from the 2004 revoking of the permit.

Had the court found in favor of Mr. Moujabber in this particular case, he would have been entitled to keep the garage as it stands, according to town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport. The town, through legal and procedural channels, wants to demolish the structure which was built two years ago in open violation of town zoning laws and has earned the moniker Garage Majal from critics.

"This is now a closed chapter," Mr. Rappaport said of the case decided this week. "But there are still several more rounds to go."

The building permit case had been set for an April trial, but during pretrial work in recent weeks attorneys for both sides reached a settlement. The attorneys presented their agreement to The Hon. Richard F. Connon on Tuesday, who issued a corresponding judgment to dismiss the appeal.

Mr. Moujabber in the agreement also waived his right to appeal the superior court decision.

It is unclear whether the death of longtime Oak Bluffs resident Douglas A. Abdelnour Sr. in late January affected the course of the case. Mr. Abdelnour was a close family relative and business associate of Mr. Moujabber.

Mr. Moujabber could not be reached for comment this week.

On Wednesday Mr. Rappaport praised both sides for working together to resolve the case, and attorney Michael Vhay, a partner in the Boston law firm Piper Rudnick, who is representing Mr. Moujabber, echoed his remarks. Mr. Vhay said that he hopes the agreement will lead to more cooperation among the different parties.

"We thought it would advance our interest in achieving a solution to the entire situation," Mr. Vhay said of the agreement. "We hoped that if we agreed to this first step, it would properly focus everyone on fixing the problem, rather than fighting over how we got into it in the first place."

The garage conflict dates back to November 2003, when Mr. Moujabber applied to the town building department for a permit to replace an existing 240-square-foot garage on his Sea View avenue extension property at a cost of $22,000. Less than six months later, the project grew into a three-story building with balconies, sliding glass doors and a roof deck.

Building inspector Richard Mavro, who has since resigned, issued a cease and desist order and then revoked the building permit in May 2004, a decision upheld by the zoning board of appeals that summer. Mr. Moujabber appealed the decision in superior court in August 2004.

The superior court judgment this week relied on two written opinions authored by Mr. Rappaport in the summer of 2004, which argued that the permit should not have been granted because the building inspector lacked the authority to authorize nonconforming accessory structures.

Meanwhile, at least two other Moujabber garage cases are still working their way through the courts.

One case challenges the demolition order signed by Mr. Mavro in December 2005, and the other challenges two denials by the Copeland Plan District Review Board for plans filed by Mr. Moujabber to connect his garage to the main building on his property.

Mr. Rappaport said this week that if the building permit case had gone the other way, the Copeland board approval would have been unnecessary because the permit was issued before the Copeland district was adopted. Town voters added the North Bluff neighborhood to the Copeland District district of critical planning concern in April 2004.