Eyesore From All Angles
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
The following is an edited version of a letter sent to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which will review the Joseph G. Moujabber garage addition next month, beginning with a land use planning committee meeting on March 3:
As president of the North Bluff Neighborhood Homeowners’ Association, I would like to register our community’s objections to the massive, three-story, illegally built structure at 10 Sea View avenue extension, as well as its owners’ new plans to redress its offensive nature by repackaging it as an addition to the existing, single-family cottage on the property.
Our neighborhood concerns dovetail with regional issues. Our objections include:
• This building is an out-of-scale eyesore from every angle. It impacts and degrades views from the ferry (one of the Island’s main portals), the docks, Sea View avenue foot traffic and Ocean Park. It is one of the first things Island visitors, guests and residents see as they come off the ferry.
In fact, for the past two summers, some tour buses have taken to stopping in front of the building to tell the story of the infamous Garage Mahal.
• While initially (and illegally) constructed as an accessory building, the current structure is far larger than the house it was built to accessorize.
The massive building, which has marred the viewscape for nearly four years, replaces a small, in-scale garage that was in keeping with the neighborhood pattern of cottages accompanied by small, detached garages.
Subsequent plans repackaging the structure as an addition onto the modest existing house either have exceeded or equaled the massing and scale of the house, especially in relation to the limited lot size.
• The basic structural elements of the building are, in a word, ugly. The new plans may seek to mask certain architectural elements, but from the perspective of sheer height and mass, it remains aesthetically disturbing and inappropriate.
• The current building and its proposed reinvention is out of keeping with the size, shape and feel of the Craftsman style cottages in the North Bluff neighborhood, destroying its unique architectural character as seen from the ferry. As you may be aware, four of these North Bluff gems were designed by Sam Kidder, a highly regarded designer of Craftsman style architecture in the early part of the 1900s. Of these four exemplary samples of his work, two directly abut the Moujabber property. The huge building replaces a small, in-scale garage that was in keeping with the neighborhood pattern of cottages accompanied by small, detached garages.
• Craftsman cottages do not have towers, decks or sliding glass doors. The commission’s design criteria specifically states “there should not be any projecting decks or balconies.”
• The building as it exists today is illegal and deserves no special presumptive favor from the MVC. The initial building permit issued to Mr. Moujabber for the structure was revoked years ago and his appeal of this revocation was dismissed with an acknowledgement by Mr. Moujabber that it existed without a valid permit. (It is still subject to a demolition order, which, although vacated by a superior court, is on appeal by the town.)
• This massive, three-story structure was built in the dead of winter, in hopes that absent neighbors would not notice it until it was too late. This has been until recently the old way of doing things in Oak Bluffs. Positive changes in the politics and proper stewardship of the town’s historic uniqueness were catalyzed largely by outrage at this structure.
• The North Bluff is now in the process of carefully reviewing the newly submitted plans. We are struck by the ambiguous nature of the renderings, which we hope will be evaluated thoroughly by the MVC for both accuracy and impacts.
The artist’s sketch appears to make the addition look far smaller in depth and height than it would actually be. On the site plan, is the square footage of the rebuilt connector included in the square footage calculation of the existing house or the proposed addition?
• We have other questions: is the plan, then, to demolish the structure and start over again on a new foundation, as one drawing implies? Or will this be a recycled version of the same building we already have? Why is there no architect’s stamp on these drawings?
• If this reconjured building gets a go-ahead, we believe this will be the tipping point for the destruction of our unique North Bluff residential neighborhood. By crossing over Pasque avenue with something of this mass, not to mention its true purpose, we fear the rest of the North Bluff will fall like a house of cards to an encroaching commercial zone. Our residential neighborhood will become unlivable.
• We have it on good authority from various Island workmen that the current building has plumbing and wiring for three kitchens and several bathrooms. This speaks to use, a zoning issue, but also a regional impact issue.
We believe this building has always been designed as a commercial property — currently a stack of three apartments to be used as a rental revenue stream for the owner, out of compliance with its R-1 zoning status.
The original, freestanding, illegal structure nakedly and arrogantly reveals this purpose — indeed it looks exactly like a cheap motel; the newest plans disguise this.
We welcome your investigation of the plumbing and wiring infrastructure of this addition to properly assess these concerns, because, although the new floor plans depict a single residence, the scale of each of the rooms is suspect, as are the five bathrooms.
• From a sheer noise standpoint, the apparent mass of the building with its multiple decks and sliding doors will create an intolerable racket for the neighborhood.
Because of the acoustics involved with being so close to the ocean, noise already carries vibrantly from the front porch of the current house, all the way down Saco, Pasque and Sea View itself. Even modest gatherings of young people on the porch at night create enough noise to generate occasional calls to the police.
• Area resident views of the ocean have been blocked by this structure, and any interested member of the commission is welcome to visit my home and see for themselves. Other North Bluff residents have the added insult of water runoff flooding their property from the illegal structure.
• Island morale has been affected by the continued existence of this affront. We have been buttonholed by people from every town on the Island, asking what is wrong with our governance that this thing is still standing.
• An MVC refusal to bless the continuation of this illegal project sends a strong and much needed signal to a very concerned town and an outraged Island, that Oak Bluffs — the hub of so much Islandwide activity — is not giving in to thoughtless development, that protections are in place, laws are being enforced, that the aesthetic and historic value of a unique heritage is precious and that civility and community life are worthy of nurture and respect.
We have spent four years, countless work hours and tens of thousands of dollars trying to remediate this wrong. It has not been enough, in spite of our combined best efforts.
Thankfully, the MVC has the power, the professionalism, the knowhow, the integrity and the institutional responsibility to require thoughtful development and to reject veiled efforts to recast this monstrous structure as a simple addition.
Cleveland, Ohio and Oak Bluffs
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
As my grandmother used to say, you only have one chance to make a first impression.
And what’s the first impression when people arrive on the Oak Bluffs ferry? Why‚ it’s the infamous Garage Mahal. Its out of code height makes it visible from the ferry, Seaview avenue, the docks, Ocean Park and elsewhere.
Its hideous style, out of keeping with the traditional architectural of Oak Bluffs, also makes it a standout‚ noted by residents and visitors alike.
When I’ve gone to meet guests (driving down from Aquinnah where my family has summered for four decades), I’ve heard a few choice comments as people note the building for the first time.
“I guess property values on the Vineyard are dropping, eh?”
“Doesn’t the Vineyard have any preservation or zoning laws?”
And as we stand there at the ferry in full view of the three-story garage, when I suggest that we head down to Circuit avenue and eat lunch at one of my several favorite restaurants, I get rebuffed, as in, “Can’t we go to a more authentic, less vulgar part of the Island?”
I love Oak Bluffs and travel down-Island to eat and shop all the time, but what we do not need is something at our gateway that marks the place (and by extension the Island) as sleazy and in decline.
Let’s face it: this negative impression impacts not only Oak Bluffs residents but everyone.
The town has tried to tear the illegal building down for several years, obstructed by a pile-on of frivolous lawsuits by the garage builder (paid for by our lobster rolls).
I say it’s time for all Vineyarders to support the town by rallying against this standing monument to a past of dubious governance.
The upcoming land use planning committee (LUPC) meeting on Monday, March 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the Olde Stone building on New York avenue will consider the Garage Mahal as of concern to the whole Island — which it is — and make recommendations to the Martha’s Vineyard commission.
All of us from all towns who are concerned to preserve the integrity of our Island should plan to attend.
Alison Rose Levy
Tear It Down
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
I am the owner of 14 Seaview avenue extension, an abutter to the Moujabber property at 10 Seaview avenue extension. Our family has owned this property since 1933.
I strongly object to the continuing presence of a large three-story building constructed on the Moujabber property during the winter of 2003-2004. This new structure occupies a large fraction of what was originally an open back lawn with a modest one-car garage. It looms over the adjacent properties most intrusively and disrupts the historical ambience of spaciousness and gracious land use which has prevailed along the waterfront of the North Bluff ever since its development in the first decade of the 20th century.
Oak Bluffs voters in April of 2004 expressed their wish that the North Bluff be protected and preserved by declaring this area be included in a historical district. Mr. Moujabber’s structure is crowded into too little space, even overwhelming the traditional house on the front half of the property. The new structure, even if modified as proposed in recent plans, fails to harmonize with the adjacent waterfront homes with respect to its size, its large number of roof planes and its style. Whether its eventual use would be acceptable in an area zoned R-1 may well be questioned. Simple internal modifications could produce several separate apartments.
Mr. Moujabber’s building permit issued in November of 2003 was for a garage with storage space but no habitable space. On May 12, 2004, the building permit was revoked and the building declared illegal. Several public hearings concerning the structure were unusually well-attended and those attending were overwhelmingly critical of the structure.
In November of 2004 the Copeland Plan District Review Board rejected Mr. Moujabber’s proposal to move the structure to join it to the existing house. Another proposal submitted later was also rejected by the board.
On Dec. 1, 2004, the Oak Bluffs building inspector issued a demolition order. Mr. Moujabber appealed the permit revocation, the demolition order, and the Copeland board’s house-moving rejections to the courts. In August 2007 a Dukes County superior court judge ruled that the Copeland board should conduct a new review of Mr. Moujabber’s proposals because the previous board decisions lacked details and specific reasons for the rejections. He did not, however, rule out demolition but let that remain a possible outcome.
These decisions from the lower court have been challenged and are presently on appeal in the appeals court.
I respectfully request that the commission deny approval and do what is in its power to remove this discordant and illegal structure from the North Bluff waterfront.
Albert J. Read
Oneonta, N.Y. and Oak Bluffs