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MVC rejects DRI review referral of a large North Shore houseThe Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) decided last week not to review a proposed 15,573-square-foot single family house in West Tisbury as a development of regional impact (DRI). After a three-and-a-half hour meeting, the commissioners voted 10-3 not to concur with the West Tisbury planning board's referral of the house as a DRI. The commissioners also agreed to issue findings of fact on which the rejection of the DRI referral is based. The findings will include references to offers from the applicants to mitigate the impact of construction traffic and to limit the visual impact of their new house from the water. Should the property owners not do as they have offered, MVC members said the town may refer the project back to the commission once again as a DRI.
Although discussions about so called "trophy homes" and their effects on Island resources and character have been the subject of frequent MVC discussions, the commissioners agreed that they were unable to determine what the regional impact from the proposed West Tisbury house would be to trigger a DRI review.
"If we were to accept this project as a DRI, we would be saying that houses of a certain size or magnitude have regional impact," said Christina Brown, Edgartown commissioner and chairman of the Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC). "What are our guidelines or criteria for looking at a particular single-family house? We're fumbling in our discussion for what our guidelines would be.
"This particular application doesn't pose any more drastic regional impact than other houses we've seen or will see as a board. We're shooting at minnows in a pool here."
The plan proposed by applicants Patricia (Maureen) White and her husband Steve Rattner actually involves two projects: moving an existing 3,300 square foot house to an adjacent lot, and building a new 12,700 square-foot home (15,575 gross square feet, including porches and basement) on the site of the existing house, which faces north to Vineyard Sound. The property, located on Obed Daggett Road off Indian Hill Road, also contains a pond, wetlands, and a Native American burial ground, which is protected by a permanent conservation/preservation restriction.
The proposed new house will be set about 25 feet farther back than the existing house from the bluff that faces the water. A computer-generated photo showing the new house superimposed with an outline of the existing house illustrated that the view of the house from the water will be similar to what it is now.
Citing the commission's enabling legislation and the DRI checklist, attorney Diane C. Tillotson, who represented Ms. White and Mr. Rattner, argued that the proposed new house fails to meet any of the DRI criteria. But, a few of the commissioners thought the view of the house from the water might be considered a regional impact.
"The question of it being a DRI turns on the visual impact of the house from the water," said Douglas Sederholm, a Chilmark commissioner. "Are you suggesting the visual impact of the house from the water is not a DRI criteria?" he asked Ms. Tillotson.
"The question is, how does the visual impact from the water impact more than one community?" the lawyer responded.
Andrew Woodruff, a West Tisbury commissioner who voted against accepting the DRI referral, said that he found the house's architecture inappropriate in scale and scope. "I'm saddened by the changes on our waterfront," he said. "I am opposed to this large scale home on this lot." Oak Bluffs commissioners Mimi Davisson and Deborah Pigeon joined him in casting the dissenting votes.
Last July, Mr. Rattner and Ms. White applied to the West Tisbury planning board for two separate building permits for the house projects. In August, the planning board referred both to the MVC as DRIs. A week later the commission's LUPC voted to recommend DRI review.
Explaining the West Tisbury planning board's position last week, its chairman, Murray Frank, said, "The issue is not the size of the house - the issue is what will the movement of the house and the construction of the house do to the area."
Since other large homes in the surrounding area were not referred as DRIs, Mr. Frank admitted, "There is concern about whether it is fair for us to pick on the Rattners."
But, he added, "By definition, a big building has an impact on the environment. Just as important is what these buildings will do to the psyche and the soul of people who live here on the Island."
Mr. Frank wrote to the MVC on behalf of the planning board in August, citing the scope of the site excavation, increased truck traffic on Obed Daggett Road during construction, possible disturbance of wetlands, and the new house's potential drain on the region's electrical supply as regional impacts that should trigger DRI review.
Last week, he explained further that the planning board finds it is limited to conducting a site plan review, and that its members had concerns regarding the excavation for the new house's foundation and the impact of construction traffic on Obed Daggett Road.
In order to keep the elevation of the new two-story house within the town's 24-foot ridgeline restriction, the first-floor elevation will have to be lowered by about three feet. The excavation will require removing about 3,500 cubic yards of soil.
West Tisbury conservation commission (ConCom) chairman Prudy Burt, whose organization also is concerned about the scope and scale of the excavation, estimated it will take 500 dump truck loads to haul away the excavated earth.
Although the ConCom approved the Rattner/White plans with special conditions on June 2, Ms. Burt said questions remain as to who will enforce them. Wetlands protection, however, is covered by a town bylaw which requires that any work done within 100 feet of a wetlands buffer zone would have to come back before ConCom for approval.
Regarding traffic, Patrick Phear, chairman of the Obed Daggett Road Association, said he, Mr. Rattner and their neighbors have worked out a written agreement to minimize disruption on the road during construction.
Ms. Tillotson offered Mr. Frank assurances that the road association agreement could be enforced, explaining that the planning board could condition site plan approval on compliance with its terms. Other conditions accepted by the applicants also are enforceable by the building and zoning inspector, she said.
Aquinnah MVC commissioner Megan Ottens-Sargent recommended that an archeological survey be done. Ms. White, who attended the MVC meeting, agreed to archeological oversight by a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head during the excavation work.
After the commissioners concluded that the new house will not be visible from the road, they became more concerned about the visibility of the house that will be moved. Mr. Sederholm suggested that Ms. White and her husband landscape and contour the site to keep the second house hidden from view from the water.