About 40 years ago my wife and I built a modest summer house on the high point of Chappaquiddick known as Samson’s Hill. We fell in love with Samson’s Hill due to its rural character and the serenity of the area. Since then, a number of thoughtful people have built modest homes around us and all have been careful not to violate the integrity of the neighborhood.
Eleven years ago an unusual man built a mansion with a four-car garage and a large swimming pool on less than one acre of land behind our property. This was not in character with Samson’s Hill. He was granted a permit for a septic system to handle two bedrooms. After he received his permit, he turned the four-car garage into additional bedrooms totaling five, thereby overtaxing the approved septic system. Although it was obvious he was providing lodging to more people than what a two-bedroom system could handle, nobody challenged his violation of the law.
In May of this year, when we came to open our house for the season, we heard much commotion behind our house and saw many heavy construction trucks constantly traveling on the narrow dirt road in front of our home. When we went to investigate the noise, we were shocked to see that most of the property had been leveled and cleared by construction crews. The owner, whom I mentioned earlier, had purchased the 3.4-acre property adjacent to his “two-bedroom” property. After speaking with him, he blatantly said that his plan was to build a showcase resort for rental purposes which included enlarging his newly-purchased house and building an additional swimming pool, a tennis court, volleyball and basketball courts, several jacuzzis, outdoor lighting for the pool and tennis court, an outdoor sound system for broadcasting music and two golf carts for travel between the two properties. We were amazed that none of the abutters had been informed ahead of time of this massive development which was completed in three short months.
Except for our cherished Chappy General Store, the Edgartown zoning ordinance does not permit any commercial activity on Chappy. However, there is strong evidence that the intention of our neighbor is of a commercial nature. First, he obtained a commercial mortgage for his development. Secondly, he advertised on the Internet that the two properties were available for rent to a total of 40 people. (This number has subsequently been changed.)
Since then, it has come to the attention of the town officials that he has not demonstrated his public access to the recently-acquired property; that his trucks and guests are gaining access by trespassing over the private property of an abutter; and that he cannot legally combine his two properties because he does not have 50 feet of road frontage as stated in town bylaws.
In response to these findings, the town officials have begun actions to limit further construction. For example, the board of health has issued a letter of non-compliance for the first property, which has five bedrooms, but is permitted for only two bedrooms. The town has also refused to grant him future permits for a planned guest house and a cabana house on the recently-acquired property until he addresses the problem of no legal access and non-compliance. The planning board has also turned down his request to merge the two properties on the basis of inadequate road frontage.
To prevent this from happening again, the town needs to be urged to modify the permitting process so that abutters and others are given adequate notice of proposed major construction; building and septic permits are followed up with a new permit that inspects the septic system after construction is complete; a new housing inspector is hired for enforcing existing rules that are already in place; a special permitting process and a public hearing are required for the approval of any large-scale property that has more rooms than needed for the occupying family, and that has a site plan that would significantly disturb a residential neighborhood.
I have written this story especially to alert the residents of our Island who want to maintain its rural character. With the lack of enforcement of the laws and the inability to monitor development, the door is open for others to follow this precedent.
Dr. Siamak Adibi is a resident of Chappaquiddick and Pittsburgh, Pa.