Oak Bluffs – a Pivot Point for Change?
By Sam Low
TUESDAY JULY 20, 2004
If there was anyone at the Oak Bluffs ZBA meeting last Thursday to support Mr. Moujabber's Garagemajal, it was far from obvious.
So many came to oppose it, in fact, that the meeting was moved from the Town Hall to the Senior Center where it almost overflowed the seventy or so seats laid out at the behest of Roger Wey, chairman of our Board of Selectmen.
The mood of the crowd was obvious in the parking lot where I overheard snippets of conversation: “we've got to put a stop to business as usual,” “if they get way with this, then what?” For many, it seemed that Garagemajal was the last straw in a series of arbitrary and perhaps illicit actions taken by some town officials in recent years.
The meeting was orderly, from this observer's perspective, even though my fellow townsfolk could not suppress collective groans during the presentation by Mr. Bruce Bennett, Mr. Moujabber's lawyer (Mr. Moujabber, it seems, had more pressing business elsewhere and was unable to attend).
It would take a legal scholar to follow Mr. Bennet's explanation of why Mr. Moujabber did not violate his building permit when he substituted a 3,0000 square foot dwelling costing 200,000 dollars for a 500 square foot garage costing 22,000 dollars.
So I was glad when a neighbor stated that it was “plain common sense” that building a huge dwelling in place of a garage was against the town's building codes. Mr. Moujabber, his lawyer explained, wanted to be ready in case the town changed its laws to allow an apartment building on a 10,000 square foot lot.
The lawyer also stated, apparently without conscious irony, that because the Garagemajal was not used at present for anything at all (being under a cease and desist order) that it could not possibly be in violation of the code.
Another Oak Bluffs resident pointed out that if it were possible to obtain a permit for a garage and then build anything one wanted to in anticipation of the future, then it would be OK to build a skyscraper on the foundation of an outhouse in anticipation of what the island might be like a few centuries from now.
Ann Margetson echoed my thoughts when she said that it was fear that brought most of us to the meeting – fear that if the Garagemajal passed muster then we had all lost the protection of our town's laws.
Mr. Moujabber's permit application was so vague that neither the exact dimensions of the former garage nor those of the new apartment building were available – making it difficult for the ZBA to conclude their hearings. It was also learned that that Mr. Moujabber has contingency plans to move the Garagemajal and attach it to his residence, presumably in an effort to legitimize it in some mysterious way. In view of these facts, the ZBA wisely decided to continue their hearings to Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Stay tuned.
The Garagemajal may be a turning point for Oak Bluffs. It is such a flagrant violation of zoning law, such an “in your face” breach of common decencies and it is such a clear example of old style Oak Bluffs politics that it's become a rallying point for folks who are angry about our town being – as one person put it – “the laughing stock of the island.”
If this incident does indeed become a pivot point for change, we can thank Mr. Moujabber. But more to the point, we can thank the everyday residents of Oak Bluffs for rising in anger to take back our town and turn its politics down a path that thwarts unbridled greed and supports respect for neighbors, for the orderly process of law and for the Victorian aesthetics of our forefathers.
I look forward to seeing you all at Wednesday's meeting of the zoning board of appeals.