A key subcommittee of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on Monday started a review of the three-story garage built without a permit by Oak Bluffs resident Joseph G. Moujabber along the North Bluffs in 2003.
After a slew of lawsuits and appeals, it was the first time in years that the much-maligned project has undergone any kind of public review.
Mr. Moujabber initially received a town building permit to replace an existing 200-square-foot garage on his Sea View avenue extension property back in November of 2003. The proposed cost of the replacement was $22,000, but less than six months later, the project grew into a three-story building with multiple balconies, sliding glass doors and a roof deck. The new structure sparked heated opposition throughout the neighborhood.
Under pressure from town officials and neighbors, then-building inspector Richard Mavro revoked the building permit for the garage in May 2004, a decision the zoning board of appeals upheld later that summer.
Mr. Moujabber since has filed several lawsuits against the town. Earlier this year, he filed suit against the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for unanimously agreeing to review the controversial garage project — dubbed Garage Mahal by some critics — as a development of regional impact (DRI).
On Monday, the commission’s land use planning committee opened their review of revised plans for the garage project, which call for tearing down the existing three-story garage and instead building an addition to the back of the existing home along Pasque avenue. About twenty abutters and town residents were in attendance, many of whom traveled to the Island specifically to come to the review session.
According to the site plans prepared by the Cotuit-based firm of Architectural Innovations, the first floor of the proposed addition would total 848 square feet with 216 square feet of new porches. The second floor would have 741 square feet of living area and 78 square feet of deck. Proponents of the plan say the addition will be approximately two-thirds the size of the original house.
Monday’s hearing mostly consisted of a presentation by project representatives and a sprinkling of questions from commissioners. There was no public comment on the project, and for the most part commissioners did not offer their opinions on the revised plans.
Kerry Scott, chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, asked if the commission could schedule a public hearing on the Moujabber project in the late spring or summer when there was a greater number of neighbors and other residents on the Island.
The land use planning committee eventually agreed to continue their hearing until a future meeting. As of yesterday, that meeting had yet to be scheduled.
Following the meeting, attorney Michael Vhay, who represents Mr. Moujabber, said he was confident the revised plans would satisfy both neighbors and the regulations of the town and commission. He said project planners had already spoken with town officials and the commission’s staff and incorporated their input into the revised plans.
Mr. Vhay also said his client would be inclined to drop his lawsuit against the commission if the revised plans were approved.
“Finally people on both sides are coming together and talking about a solution that works for everyone. We feel this is a good plan — it allows [Mr. Moujabber] to get an enlarged house within the established guidelines; and the garage nobody seems to like goes away . . . I think we are headed in the right direction.”
Following Monday’s meeting, some neighbors who have fought the project for almost four years were less enthusiastic. Although they didn’t offer specific opinions on the revised plans, some neighbors expressed exhaustion at the thought of another lengthy public review process.
“This is like Alice in Wonderland or something . . . it’s like some weird dream,” said neighbor Jason Lew. “The town gave [Mr. Moujabber] a permit for one thing and he went and built something totally different. But here we are four years later and the building is still standing.”
Belleruth Naparstek, a neighbor and intervenor in the town’s suit against Mr. Moujabber, said she was limited in what she can say about the revised plans due to a pending cross-appeal. But she did express confidence that the commission would make the right decision.
“I trust the commission to protect the integrity and character of both the neighborhood and the Island,” she said. “Remember, the North Bluff is the gateway to the Island for many people, it is one of the first things you see when you arrive on the ferry in Oak Bluffs. Steps need to be taken to prevent an inappropriate building [like the Moujabber garage] from being built in such blatant disregard of town law.”