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 Vail Court near Central Square

The owners of Vail Court near Central Square have promised to board up the building adequately and, when weather allows, to clean the site and paint over graffiti. (Photo: Cambridge Fire Department)

The city has sued the owners of Vail Court, the derelict property near Central Square, demanding they pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines; cease the use of the property as a commercial parking lot; and secure the building against vagrants. The lawsuit was filed Monday in Middlesex Superior Court, and a hearing on a court order requiring immediate compliance was originally scheduled for Thursday, but has been rescheduled to March 17 at the request of the owners, Said Abuzahra and the Six-S Realty Trust.

The property’s open-air parking lot license expired in March 2009. The building has been unoccupied since 2009 and a December fire inspection showed signs of habitation inside the building, including “numerous candles on a table in front of the couch” deemed to be a fire hazard.

Update on March 17, 2015: Superior Court Judge Peter Krupp ruled that parking on the Vail Court site must cease after the end of the March 31 business day – a preliminary injunction. A court is scheduled to hear argument on a permanent injunction six months later, Sept. 24.

The city’s legal action comes on the heels of recent City Council requests to the city manager to take action about the property, including to levy fines and threaten the taking of the property by eminent domain.

The Inspectional Services and Fire departments began assessing fines in January and March. But the city has been trying to levy fines for years, without success – the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department began assessing fines in September 2012.

The city has also sent multiple cease-and-desist letters to the owners about the parking lot: in September 2012 and July 2013 from Inspectional Services; September 2012 and July 2013 from Traffic; and October 2012 and July 2013 from the License Commission.

As of March 9, the owners are liable for $268,200 in parking fines for the Traffic Department, calculated at $10 per day for each of 30 parking spaces since Sept. 26, 2012, according to the complaint. They are also liable for $300 per day since March 4 for violations of the zoning ordinance from operating an illegal open-air parking lot, totaling $1,500 as of March 9. They are further liable for $100 per day since Jan. 9 in Fire Department fines for not securing the building, totaling $5,900 as of March 9.

John Maciolek, attorney for the owners, wrote in an email Friday that “Mr. Abuzahra is working diligently to ensure that his property is safe and complies with all applicable regulations. He has great faith in the judicial process and welcomes the assistance of the court.”

“The city will continue to utilize all options at our disposal to ensure that the property does not pose a public safety threat to the community and that the owners of Vail Court comply with city regulations and conditions,” said Lee Gianetti, director of communications for the city.

Maciolek did not respond to questions about why the owners had not secured the building on their own or ceased operation of the parking lot.

Cambridge Fire Department Capt. Thomas Cahill wrote in an exhibit attached to the complaint that, before the Dec. 29 inspection, “Abuzahra and/or his representatives attempted to  secure the buildings at the property by using oriented strand boards (‘OSB’) to board up the doors and windows. These attempts to secure the buildings have been insufficient, as OSB boards easily deteriorate as a result of weather exposure and the OSB boards placed over the doors and windows have been pulled off by vagrants in order to access the buildings.”

On Jan. 19 and 29, building permits to board up the windows were applied for. They were issued on Feb. 5, but apparently the work has not been executed to the city’s satisfaction: “As of the date of this complaint [March 9], the defendant has not yet secured the property.”

Abuzahra vowed in a Feb. 27 letter to City Manager Richard C. Rossi to board up the building adequately. He made other promises as well.

“Once the weather conditions allow us to work outside, we will clean the site and paint over the graffiti,” Abuzahra said. “We intend in no uncertain terms to develop the property. We shall be pursuing permits once we’ve settled the pending lawsuit, to obtain permits to build on this parcel. These homes will be built to a standard that we will be proud to put our names on the same way our numerous developments in the north shore have been built.”

The hearing on the preliminary injunction is before Judge Peter B. Krupp in Middlesex Superior Court at 3 p.m. March 17. Maciolek asked the court to reschedule because he did not get the city’s motion papers until yesterday, the originally scheduled date of the hearing.

Previous story: Vail Court owners get official offer to buy, as well as land-taking, demolition threats
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