Another chapter was added last week to the long saga over the illegal three-story garage built by Oak Bluffs resident Joseph Moujabber without a permit along the North Bluff.
After three meetings and a detailed site visit to the garage and several neighboring homes the Copeland Plan district review board on Thursday approved a modified plan calling for the structure to be torn down and replaced by a new addition on the rear of Mr. Moujabber’s existing home on Sea View avenue extension.
The board, which reviews plans in the town’s historic Copeland district and has powers vested in it by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, initially voted 3-2 in favor of the plan Monday evening, with Kerry Scott and Injy Farak Lew casting the dissenting votes.
Four votes are required for approval — a majority of the seven member panel. Two members of the board, Renee Balter, representative for the Cottage City Historical Commission, and Jerry Wiener, the town building inspector, are not sitting on the application and are ineligible to vote.
But in order to meet a deadline — the review board must vote on an application 30 days after being filed — board members agreed to reconvene again on Wednesday to reassess the plan and possibly take another vote. The deadline for a vote was last Wednesday, but Mr. Moujabber agreed to a short extension.
The board was still deadlocked after Wednesday’s meeting and agreed to conduct a site visit Thursday morning. There were visits to the Moujabber garage and the homes of neighbors Albert J. Read and Belleruth K. Naparstek. Board members looked out the neighbors’ windows to understand how views will be affected by the new structure.
The board then reconvened at the town library and voted 4-1 in favor of the modified plan. Ms. Scott again cast the lone dissenting vote.
The story behind the Moujabber garage is now familiar. In November of 2003 Mr. Moujabber received a town building permit to replace an existing small garage on his Sea View avenue extension property. In less than six months the project grew into a three-story building with multiple balconies, sliding glass doors and a roof deck.
The violation sparked heated opposition throughout the neighborhood.
Under pressure from town officials and neighbors, building inspector Richard Mavro, who has since resigned, revoked the building permit in May 2004 and ordered the new building demolished. The decision was upheld by the town zoning board of appeals later that summer.
Mr. Moujabber since has filed several lawsuits against the town. Last August a Dukes County superior court judge overturned the demolition order and sent the garage project back to the Copeland District review committee for a fresh review. The Copeland board denied a certificate of appropriateness for the garage project in November of 2004.
At their regular meeting last Tuesday, two selectmen briefly discussed the ongoing battle over the project and offered different points of view.
Selectman Gregory Coogan asked town administrator Michael Dutton when the situation might be resolved and what it will wind up costing the town in legal fees. Mr. Coogan said the proposed building was not much different than the rest of the neighborhood, and suggested the Copeland board should approve the plan and move forward.
“We are already in a costly position in terms of time and money,” he said.
But Ms. Scott, who as the selectmen’s representative to the Copeland board had voted against the project the previous evening, and would do so again two days later, suggested it was inappropriate for the board to discuss the matter while the matter was still under review.
“This whole process has been guided by town counsel . . . and I don’t think it is appropriate to be talking about this in open session,” she said.
When the Copeland board reconvened the next night, there was lengthy discussion about whether the new plan called for the construction of a three-story building or a two-story building with a garage on the ground floor. Mr. Coogan was in the audience and offered his opinion.
“I look at what was built and it’s an atrocity; it has to come down. But because what was built was too much, I think we are focusing way too much on whether it’s two stories or three stories, just because there is so much hurt there,” he said.
But Ms. Scott said the proposed building is too large and out of character with the neighborhood. “It is, any way you cut it, three stories above the ground . . . as I reviewed the plan this week I didn’t get more comfortable, I got less comfortable,” she said.
Peter Pometti, a Cape Cod-based architect who designed the new plan, disagreed.
“We’ve taken seven feet off of it; we’ve lowered it; we’ve removed a tower . . . there really is nowhere else to go to make it smaller unless we start from scratch,” he said.
Representatives for the project eventually agreed to several concessions; including removing some of the decking, installing a wooden garage door on the first floor and planting trees and shrubs for screening.
The application still must clear more hurdles before work can begin and the existing three-story garage can be torn down. Among other things, the project must be reviewed by both the Cottage City historical commission and the zoning board of appeals.