Zoning official’s development appears to violate zoning law
Four new homes being built by Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Nazih Elkallassi in West Wareham are raising questions and hackles as the homes go to the ZBA for approval.
At issue are what Elkallassi calls two duplexes that his company, Cedar Village, Inc., is building on Old Stage Coach Road. But the well-separated locations of four foundations make it appear that single-family homes are being constructed. And it is not clear that he has valid permits for either type of structure.
And neighboring homeowners are doubly up in arms because of Elkallassi’s involvement in hearings for his own project and the refusal of fellow ZBA member Veronica DeBonise, Elkallassi’s former wife, to recuse herself from discussion of the project.
“I’m not trying to say he shouldn’t be building,” said neighbor Heather Wood Zine. “I just want to know that its done in a way thats following protocol and procedure.”
Elkallassi denies any wrongdoing.
The situation is clearly complicated.
The four under-construction homes are located on two lots on Old Stage Coach Road, an unpaved private road in West Wareham.
Currently, Elkallassi says he is building one duplex on each of two lots, located across the street from each other on Old Stage Coach Road.
There are two distinct poured foundations on each lot. One foundation on each lot already supports a house under construction. According to plans, the two structures on each lot will be connected by long breezeways or storage areas — one approximately 100 feet long and one approximately 300 feet long.
In April, despite extensive clearing of trees and significant construction, there were still many trees in the path of the proposed breezeways.
According to the planning office, the breezeways would make the homes duplexes under the law. The breezeway would not connect to a doorway on at least one of the houses that has been partially built, and would instead run into a wall.
The permitting for this project is unclear: Duplexes are being built, but the only building permits and permit applications on file with the town are for four single family (one unit) homes. The permits are signed by former building commissioner David Riquinha and dated November 2018.
Elkallassi claims that the permits for the single family homes are, in effect, permits for duplexes, because no matter what there will be four housing units.
“You saw the permits,” said Elkallassi. “So why are you asking what the permits are?”
Elkallassi said that duplexes get two permits, because they are two houses.
According to Wareham’s zoning bylaws, a two-family dwelling is defined as “a building containing two-dwelling units constructed on a single lot.” Elkallassi has four permits for one-unit buildings.
There are also two letters in the files which deny Elkallassi’s request to “separate a structure, originally permitted as an attached residential duplex, for the purpose of creating two separate, detached single family residential building on the same site.” (sic)
The letters, which are identical except for date and signature, go on to cite Wareham’s zoning bylaws: No more than one principal residential building may be built on one lot without a special permit (Article 6, Section 613), and the Zoning Board of Appeals has the authority to issue special permits (Article 14, Section 1460).
The letter is first dated January 10, 2019, and signed by David Riquinha. Later copies are dated April 20, 2019, and signed by Frank Cardi, Inspections Officer. There are copies of the letter for both lots.
Although the letters reference permits for duplexes, the town does not have any record of those permits or of applications for those permits.
The letters are also in direct contradiction of the single family dwelling permits issued months earlier.
It is apparently those letters that prompted the application for a zoning variance, even after construction was well underway.
The application seeks a variance to allow two single housing units on a single lot.
Adding to the confusion, records from the Assessor’s Office show that the lot labeled 8-10 Old Stage Coach Road was deemed unbuildable on February 12, 2015, due to insufficient frontage.
When asked about this, Elkallassi replied, “There’s no such thing. Who deemed it? It don’t mean nothing.”
He said that sometimes landowners will claim that land is unbuildable in order to save money on taxes. Elkallassi has owned the land since August 2005.
The ZBA hearing, initially scheduled for May 22, has been postponed twice because the full board has not been present. The next date for the hearing is June 26.
In what may be a conflict of interest, Elkallassi placed legal ads notifying the public of these hearings in his capacity as Chairman, and spoke briefly about the hearings in that capacity at the May 22 meeting of the board, for which the hearings were initially scheduled. At that meeting, Elkallassi said that the hearings were being delayed because two members of the board were absent, meaning that the board did not have the necessary quorum.
Board member Veronica DeBonise, who is Elkallassi’s ex-wife, did not recuse herself at either meeting.