Chilmark planning board discusses housing regulations

The planning board met Monday to discuss house size. — Photo by Michelle Williams

House size and the variety of restraints which could or should be imposed on the construction of large houses dominated discussion at a meeting of the Chilmark planning board on Monday.

Board members and a small group of interested residents discussed the town’s current regulations governing new house construction, and whether zoning bylaws should be modified to limit house size.

The discussion began in January when members of the board and concerned Chilmark residents formed a large house working group to discuss possible house limitations. The spur was the permitted construction of a 8,238-square-foot main house and associated buildings overlooking Quitsa Pond that is visible from the road.

Planning board chairman Janet Weidner said the goal of the working group is to draw up large house regulations that the planning board could present at annual town meeting for a vote.

On Monday, members of the working group presented ideas and outlines drawn from what they had learned from other communities. The group has looked at town regulations both in Massachusetts and as far afield as Aspen, Colorado, and Austin, Texas.

Dan Greenbaum, a retired traffic engineer, and Joan Malkin, a retired lawyer, are leading the effort.

Mr. Greenbaum, a member of the planning board, presented a one-page list of regulations for discussion that would govern the proposed construction of any house over 3,500 square feet, beginning with review by a site review committee.

The review would include whether the proposed project is far greater than other houses in the same district; public visibility; water drainage; and special energy and water conservation measures.

Joan Malkin presented a 61-page report on building regulations governing house size in other communities. Most related house size to acreage, buy others imposed a cap irrespective of lot size.

Ms. Malkin presented 10 options, ranging from establishing a bylaw that would ban houses above a certain size without approval from the board to establishing all of Chilmark as a District of Critical Planning Concerns (DCPC) and prohibit houses above a stated size.

Chilmark resident Miles Jaffe questioned the legality of setting a cap on square footage. Sergio Modigliani, an architect and seasonal resident of Chilmark, agreed. “There is an absolute prohibition against saying no houses larger than a certain square footage,” he said.

Ms. Malkin agreed but said there are methods by which towns have set caps. “There is a town on the cape, Wellfleet, that has done it because they are in the National Seashore District,” she said.

The Cape Cod National Seashore, a federally protected area established in 1961, allows towns to limit the size of houses. In Wellfleet, new construction of homes within the designated seashore district are limited to 3,600 square feet of living space per lot.

Jessica Roddy, a concerned resident, agreed. “Although we are not in a National Seashore District we have been given special case-law to protect what is special about this Island,” she said. “I think we can easily argue that this town is very much akin to a National Seashore District.”

Thomas Bena argued that Chilmark should apply to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to designate the town a DCPC town. Such a designation would impose a moratorium on development for up to one year while the town creates new rules and regulations to protect areas or resources. “They don’t have this problem in Aquinnah where the entire town is a DCPC,” Mr. Bena said.

Ms. Weidner said she is hesitant about a DCPC designation and fears that it would unnecessarily slow the building process. “I’ve heard rumblings from a variety of people about how slowly things move in Aquinnah and how difficult it is to get a permit to do anything,” she said.

Mr. Bena repeatedly raised the subject of a house built by Adam Zoia, founder of Glocap Industries in New York. The house is being built on a 4.9-acre lot at 18 Point Inner Way, on Quitsa Pond, that he purchased for $7,400,000 from the Harrison family.

The property includes a 8,238-square-foot main house, a 2,320 square foot detached bedroom and pool, a 1,920 square foot two story barn/garage, and a tennis court, according to the building permit.

A seasonal resident, Mr. Zoia said he purchased the property because his family enjoys spending time on Menemsha Pond and wanted to have a property with direct access to it.

“This is a small town in a precious community, precious to all of us in this room,” said Mr. Bena, founder of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. “I just think we should do something extreme in the short run. Aquinnah figured it out, and they don’t have a problem with trophy homes.

“Some people have said that a DCPC is too extreme, but I think this is too extreme,” Mr Bena said, holding up a photo of Mr. Zoia’s newly constructed house. “This is the new variety of summer homes — the Chilmark hotel.”

Mr. Bena said he wants to see a halt on construction of all buildings over 3,500 square feet.

Andy Goldman, chairman of the community preservation committee, suggested that if the home was built on a 30-acre lot, in the middle of the woods no one would care.

But house size wasn’t the only problem Mr. Bena has with the home on Quitsa Pond.

“I think a lot of people are offended by the style of the Zioa Project,” he said.

Ms. Roddy added, “Thirty five hundred feet in the wrong place would be just as offensive to me as this building.”

Ms. Weidner said the ideas presented Monday would be discussed with town counsel Ronald Rappaport to review which bylaws would pass legal muster should the town agree.

Mr. Bena said he is interested to learn the majority opinion on this matter at the annual town meeting. “It would be fun for it to go through the town and find out if we are the only 10 people that care.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the square footage of the main house built by Adam Zoia as 4,200-square feet.