Days after a heated debate on whether the town of Chilmark should take on the issue of regulating large houses, the Chilmark planning board this week said they felt the support to move ahead with changing existing zoning bylaws.
The board narrowed possible restrictions at Monday’s meeting and focused on capping house sizes in relation to neighborhoods or lot sizes, regulating the amount of energy used and expanding existing district of critical planning concerns (DCPCs) to incorporate rules to regulate house size.
“I felt I came away from it energized and know people are concerned...to look at the issues and impacts of large houses,” chairman Janet Weidner said at Monday’s meeting. “It’s gratifying to know this is something we need to do.”
Board member Dan Greenbaum said he was surprised no one came out in opposition.
“I don’t think I heard anyone say they were against looking at this, which I expected to hear,” Greenbaum said. “I was at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on this subject and most of the discussion then was we ought to lay off. You didn’t hear this at all [last week]. I certainly felt people wanted us to do something.”
Last week’s lively discussion centered around a house under construction on Quitsa Pond owned by Adam Zoia, a longtime summer resident who recently purchased the Harrison property. Mr. Zoia’s 8,238 square foot house at the head of the pond has been the subject of much discussion in town, and the planning board received an onslaught of emails from town residents alarmed by the size and visibility of the house.
Mr. Greenbaum said one issue not raised at that meeting was visibility.
“On a big lot we’re really worried about where it is...if it’s way in the back, that’s different than way in the front,” he said. “How do you make a judgment on how visible it is or if you can live with it or not? It’s particularly a problem on Quitsa Pond . . . we all agree [the Zoia house] is not what we want.”
“How do you make a judgement, and how do you have it legally stand up is a real problem,” he added. “That’s something we’re going to struggle with.”
Discussion focussed on looking into adapting bylaws similar to those passed in Wellfleet on the Lower Cape last April, which limits the maximum site coverage of all buildings to 3,600 square feet and the dwelling space or main house to 2,800 square feet. Board members said they would seek legal counsel to see if a similar bylaw could be adapted in Chilmark.
“I hear the need for urgency, and we should start,” board member Kathy Thompson said. “We should try working with the laws that we like and we may say that doesn’t work here, but it’s an approach.”
However, Ms. Weidner noted that the permitting process itself can be cumbersome and fraught with potential problems. Applicants must have approval from various town boards and a site review committee, which consists of one member from the board of health, conservation commission, planning board, assessor and a selectman. Moreover, the site review committee is an advisory committee and ultimately does not have authority to deny applications.
Board member Mitchell Posin suggested requiring a three-dimensional model could help, as well as sharing the meeting minutes of all the site planning boards. He also said land value and economics should be considered when crafting the bylaw. If a large house is built and raises the value of the surrounding area, property taxes could go up as a result, he said.
“What happens if the next year you can’t afford those taxes?” said Mr. Posin. “That’s a crime to me.”
Elizabeth Gude said the issue of available water resources should be considered when talking about large houses.
“If the water table isn’t efficient you won’t have enough water for your neighbors,” she said.
The board is expected to meet regularly on the topic throughout the winter, and Ms. Weidner said the board has to keep the pressure on themselves.
“We have to continuously ask ourselves why are we doing it and is it the right thing . . . is it right thing to do for the town in the long run?” she said. The board agreed to tackle the potential bylaw the same way it did the swimming pool bylaw amended by the town last April — piece by piece — but will look at other town bylaws in the Northeast for groundwork.
“We shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel, if possible,” Mr. Greenbaum said.