The Martha’s Vineyard Commission last week unanimously agreed to review the Joseph G. Moujabber garage along the North Bluff in Oak Bluffs as a development of regional impact (DRI), setting the stage for the most comprehensive review of the controversial project to date.
Commissioners agreed that because the three-story building potentially affects views from one of the main gateways to the Island, it warranted a full DRI review.
“When people arrive at the Island through the steamship terminal [in Oak Bluffs] this is the first thing they see . . . the North Bluff is the welcome mat of the Island,” said commissioner John Breckenridge before the vote last Thursday night.
Commissioners also questioned whether the building fit the architecture of the neighborhood and the waterfront streetscape. And they noted that the commission has accepted single-family houses as DRIs in the past and has reviewed projects along the North Bluff in the past — including the Lookout Tavern, which abuts the Moujabber garage.
Thursday’s hearing, technically a concurrance vote to decide whether to review the project, marked the first time the illegal Moujabber garage had gone before the commission. Built without a permit, the garage has been reviewed by several Oak Bluffs boards and committees and has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and appeals.
In November 2003 Mr. Moujabber received a building permit to replace an existing 200-square-foot garage on his Sea View avenue extension property. 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.
Last month, the Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously agreed to refer project to the commission as a development of regional impact after a flurry of legal activity which included a ruling from a Dukes County superior court judge, an appeal by Mr. Moujabber and cross appeals from the town and two neighbors.
Although Mr. Moujabber was not present on Thursday, several neighbors to the project urged the commission to review and eventually deny the project.
“This monstrosity has caused financial and emotional distress to our family for too long,” said Valerie Hodges, whose family owns a home that directly abuts the garage.
“I want it known that this is not a garage; it’s an apartment complex,” added abutter Maureen Tripp. “This building is more suited to Boston than Martha’s Vineyard . . . I think it needs to come down.”
A demolition order has been issued by the town but is caught in the web of court proceedings.
Some commissioners cited the recent court ruling which found that an earlier review of the garage by the Copeland District Review Board was lacking in specifics; a new review was ordered by the court.
“The applicant in the past has complained about the lack of guidance, and this review as a DRI will certainly result in a great deal of interaction between [the applicant] and the commission,” said commissioner Paul Strauss.
“The town [of Oak Bluffs] has been struggling with this for four years,” added commissioner Ned Orleans. “This agency is the only one on the Island that can provide information to the applicant that will be helpful.”
In other business last week the commission unanimously voted to accept a nomination to create a townwide energy district of critical planning concern (DCPC) in Aquinnah. Ordinarily DCPC nominations trigger an automatic building moratorium, but in this case the moratorium will be limited to structures over 32 feet in height.
The moratorium is expected to affect only wind turbines.
The nomination was filed by the Aquinnah selectmen.
The vote triggers a process requiring a public hearing and a vote to be held within the next 60 days.
Several commissioners praised the town.
“I am pleased the town has . . . taken the lead in what might become a larger effort to create an Islandwide energy DCPC,” Mr. Strauss said.