Case has possible implications on property surveys


To the Editor:

During November, Rich Saltzberg’s coverage of Martha’s Vineyard real estate development (Nov. 29, “Pivotal Land Court trial remains unfinished”) captured my interest.

To my understanding, the case involves a land issue in Oak Bluffs, and calls into question a developer’s ability to depend on the accuracy of a recorded survey. The Oak Bluffs building inspector relied on the survey of record, and approved the developers John and Sue Zarba to build a guesthouse. The Zarbas and Oak Bluffs followed building protocol, and the guesthouse was built as permitted. Before issuing the final occupancy permits to the Zarbas, Oak Bluffs’ legal counsel called for a new survey to dispute the initial survey of record.

If the new survey ordered after the Zarbas’ build displaces the old study of record, developers, land surveyors, lawyer’s title insurance, building inspectors, neighbors, and buyers and sellers of real estate can never again depend on recorded surveys of record.

When will The Times be following up on this case? I expect the judge’s decision to have a great impact on the Island’s large building industry.

Thanks for the coverage, I find it very informative.

Mike Hegarty


  1. This is nothing new. If any professional makes an error, it is subject to review. This case is not about dueling surveys, which often happens, it is about whether the Town colluded with their lawyers and surveyor to harm a resident (Zarba) because they favored another neighbor who would benefit from a different survey. The Zarba’s survey expert, Mr. Dowling, provided a much more comprehensive understanding of the Zarba survey and I expect it will prevail. And yes, everyone should continue to rely on their survey, until such survey is proven wrong. Which brings us into the 20 year adverse use statute, to complicated to discuss here.

    • Adverse possession is a legal doctrine that allows a person to claim a property right in land owned by another; a common example is continuous use of a private road or driveway.

      • You are correct. That is why the largest landlord in Edgartown used to rope off the area in from of the brick building that is now a restaurant once a year in order to maintain there rights. I suppose that now tables occupy the space, its unnecessary to ‘preserve’ that right. If you block off that private road or driveway for a period of time (once a year?) then you don’t lose the right to adverse possession. If there’s a lawyer out there reading this please chime in!

  2. It’s not an adverse possession issue – it’s a simple boundary dispute. There is roughly a 20 INCH difference between the survey of record and the new survey which was ordered by Oak Bluffs crack legal advisors. The dispute is over land on the outer edge of a cemetery and impacts only two lots on one side and folks who’ve been at eternal rest for hundreds of years on the other side. From what I’ve seen the towns new line “tilts” the boundary so it actually encroaches on the dearly departed on one end, and “creates” an inconsequential set back “issue” on the two lots that it impacts. Seems like a big waste of everyone’s time and money – makes me wonder about “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say…

  3. This is another case where the real story and people’s motivations for their actions will never be written in the paper.Those who are in the wrong know it and refuse to play fair.

  4. What the articles have not mentioned is that the Town of OB was forced into a Land Court Case because the Zarbas tried to block their neighbors access to their homes by closing Davis Avenue. They have also tried to remove the Davis Ave sign so the Murphys and O’Neils are forced to live on an unmarked street. The Zarbas home is on South St. They brought this all on themselves. Don’t feel sorry for them. Only the O’Neils and Murphys live on Davis Ave. Should folks be able to build a guesthouse and then remove the street sign on a parallel street to their frontage, and block neighbors access to their homes?

  5. I recall someone claimed the neighbors still had access. How do the old and new lines compare? Who owns the land those cemetery plots occupy? Who owns the land Davis Avenue passes over?

  6. Perhaps “Happy” should share any evidence you have to back up your claims – I thought part of this case was about the Zarba’s using a driveway next to their guest house – why would they try close the access to the driveway they use for the guest house.

    • I can only guess, I’m not in the Zarbas’ heads but a use might be guest parking for the guest house.

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