Large West Tisbury crowd can’t talk big houses

Zoning board considers proposed 5,342-square-foot home, but limits public comments.

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By Geoff Currier

Dozens of people came to express their views on a proposed 5,342- square-foot house at 19 Briarwood Lane at a Sept. 28 meeting inside the West Tisbury Public Safety Building.

The board is considering an application filed by Michael Stimola to construct a structure with a total living space of 5,342 square feet, including a two-story attached garage on a one-acre nonconforming lot.

Nancy Cole, chairman of the zoning board, introduced the meeting by spelling out the ground rules. “We’re going to limit comments,” said Ms. Cole. “If you just want to talk about size, this really should be taken up with the planning board.This [discussion] is very site specific.”

Attorney for the Stimolas, Doug Sederholm, led off the meeting with reasons why the Stimolas felt they should be allowed to build a 5,342-square-foot dwelling and a 600-square-foot garage. “Currently there is a 1,600-square-foot house on the one-acre property which was built in 1970,” said Mr. Sederholm. “The Stimolas tried to renovate the existing house, but couldn’t, so they decided to remove the existing house and build a new one. The footprint of [the new structure] is 3,492 square feet, or about 8 percent of the area of lot.” Mr. Sederholm said he realized some neighbors are concerned about the visual impact, but said that the Stimolas are doing everything in their power to visually screen the house from their neighbors by planting evergreens.

The new house would have home offices for the Stimolas; and Mr. Stimola’s parents, who are in their late 70s and in failing health, may live in the home in the near future, he said. The new house is for people who live in West Tisbury year-round, Mr. Sederholm said. It’s not a spec house and “not a flophouse for people who just live here in the summer.”

Following Mr. Sederholm’s comments, the zoning board read excerpts from letters sent by abutters. Kenneth McLeod wrote: The Stimolas live on Island year-round, they’re lovely and generous people, and it’s unfortunate that people on social media try to mischaracterize them and in some cases cyberbully them.  

Thomas and Polly Bassett wrote that the proposed house is more than double the size of other surrounding homes and would alter the character of the neighborhood.

Discussion was then open to the room. “This house is three to four times the size as the average in this neighborhood on a lot that is one-third the minimum size for new subdivisions,” Ebba Hierta said in a prepared statement. “There is nothing rural about it. It will dwarf the rest of the neighborhood.”

In addition, she said, “One of the most pressing housing needs in West Tisbury is for working families whose income is too large to qualify for low-income affordable housing assistance programs but too low to be able to afford most of the housing available in town. This is our middle class, and we are losing them. Modest homes, like the one being demolished for this proposed mansion — accepted definition is over 5,000 square feet — are the only hope for these families. If we allow these undersized lots to be developed with mansions, we will lose our middle class.”

In another prepared statement, Marjory Potts said, “The proposed house, which while larger [than the former house], is not out of scale with the surroundings, will not increase road traffic or block any views, and will, again, be well screened for privacy on all sides. And, again, it’s a family home.”

The board will continue the hearing on Oct. 26, with a site visit planned for Oct. 24.