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Rug store sues MST over bus stop

By KELLY NIX

Published: August 30, 2013

THE OWNERS of a Monterey rug shop have filed a lawsuit against Monterey-Salinas Transit over a multimillion-dollar construction project on Lighthouse Avenue last year that frustrated businesses and snarled traffic for weeks.

Parnian Rug Gallery proprietors Mario Torabbagi and Mori Torabbeigi allege they were never notified that MST was going to install a bus shelter in front of their 599 Lighthouse Ave. store when they signed a lease for the business.

The 11-foot wide shelter blocks “visual access to a substantial part” of their building and impairs a window display, according to the lawsuit filed Aug. 9 in Monterey County Superior Court. The rug shop is asking a judge to order MST to move the shelter.

Monterey-Salinas Transit spokesman Hunter Harvath declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the company’s attorney is reviewing the complaint.

In June 2012, Torabbagi and Torabbeigi signed a multi-year lease to open up their rug store in the former Rabobank building at the corner of Lighthouse and Hoffman avenues. Shortly thereafter, they hired architects and contractors to make structural changes for the store, including installing a large plate glass window facing Lighthouse intended to display their imported rugs.

But in October 2012, a month after the renovation at the rug store commenced, “without any prior notice” from MST or the City of Monterey, crews began tearing up the sidewalk to install a bus shelter in front of their store — part of a larger $5 million MST bus stop and rebranding effort, which included wrapping numerous busses with jazz-themed displays. Money for the improve
ments came from U.S. taxpayers.

Upset over the size and location of the bus shelter, the rug shop owners and their landlord, Jeff Congdon, met with MST officials, according to the lawsuit filed by Pebble Beach attorney Gary Fontana.

“As a result of those meetings,” Torabbagi and Torabbeigi allege that “MST agreed to change the proposed location of the bus shelter and move it east along Lighthouse to a point where it would only impair visual access to 591 Lighthouse” (an adjacent space they leased) but not 599” Lighthouse, where the rug shop is located.


Better location offered

Among the documents accompanying the lawsuit is an Oct. 17, 2012, email from Harvath to Congdon offering him the chance to choose a “preferred location” for the shelter.

Prior to MST’s concession to move the shelter, though, the landlord agreed to rescind the rug shop owners’ lease because of the shelter and its potential impact on their sales. But when MST officials said they would relocate it, the shop owners decided to continue leasing the space and spent more than $50,000 in exterior renovations to the building, including the plate glass window, in November 2012.

A month later, the lawsuit alleges, MST changed course and positioned the shelter in front of window display anyway, prompting the two store owners to protest. Monterey-Salinas Transit officials responded by contending the shelter was only “temporary” and that it would be removed after Christmas 2012 if the shop owners felt it was a problem for their business, according to the lawsuit.

In late December 2012, “MST did remove the temporary structure for a short period of time,” but it was reinstalled in the same location despite objections by Torabbagi and Torabbeigi.

And while members of the public and several MST board members raised questions about the way MST had handled the situation, the transit agency’s board provided “none of the relief requested,” the suit alleges.

Torabbagi and Torabbeigi also want a judge to set aside the rejection in May by the MST board of directors to move the shelter, and reimburse them for legal expenses.

Ironically, MST used a rendering of the bus shelter in front of the rug store building in marketing materials distributed to the media.