Chilmark planning board seeks cap on house size

— File photo by Tim Johnson

Members of a Chilmark planning board working group further refined a draft set of regulations intended to rein in the construction of large houses in the small, wealthy up-Island town. The proposed rules are to be presented to voters at a future town meeting.

Dan Greenbaum, a retired traffic engineer and member of the committee, presented a second draft of the proposal on Tuesday. If adopted by voters, the new rules would subject all planned houses of more than 3,500 square feet to a site review by a town committee. The location of the lot, the height of the house, visibility and energy efficiency would all be reviewed by the committee, which would work from a check list of seven questions.

The questions include: is the project far more than 20 percent greater than the median of all other residential developments in the same district; is the house visible from public areas (roads, waterways, conservation land); does the project include the clearing/disturbing of more than one acre; and is the project lacking “stretch” energy conservation measures?

A yes to any of the seven questions would refer the project to the zoning board of appeals for a special permit. “The zoning board of appeals shall consider the same issues,” according to the draft. “This review shall be in more depth, with some estimates of the degree of impacts.”

The discussion of house size began in earnest in January, after members of the planning 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 at 18 Inner Point Way overlooking Quitsa Pond. The house, visible from the road and the pond, is owned by Adam Zoia.

Currently, the proposal is to ask voters to approve the regulations for a set period of time to allow for further review. Tuesday, the small group discussed the question of whether the regulations should be permanent or interim.

Joan Malkin, a retired lawyer and member of the subcommittee, said she doesn’t think a permanent regulation would receive the required two-thirds vote needed to pass. “I’d love a permanent regulation, but I don’t feel anyone here has a finger on the pulse accurately enough to say we can get two-thirds,” she said.

Thomas Bena, founder of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, disagreed. “Getting a two-thirds vote is not going to be easy, but I think we can convince the town. If people want a big house on the water, I say they move to Edgartown.”

Ken and Jill Iscol live at 19 Inner Point Way, next to Mr. Zoia. Mr. Iscol has been vociferous in his objections to his neighbor’s house.

A wealthy telecommunications businessman, philanthropist, and Democratic fundraiser, Mr. Iscol has accused Mr. Zoia of violations of the Chilmark zoning regulations. The zoning board of appeals was to hold a hearing Wednesday on his appeal.

Tuesday, Mr. Iscol held up a photo of his neighbor’s new house. “That’s the reason we’re here, let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “Maybe this thing could have been caught early on, if we’d had these regulations.”

Last year, Adam Zoia, founder of Glocap Industries in New York, bought the 4.9-acre lot on Quitsa Pond from the Harrison family. He has built 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.

In Chilmark, nine houses are of greater than 8,000 square feet, and all were built within the last 15 years, Jessica Roddy, a concerned Chilmark resident who has spent time researching the topic, said. “Eighty-seven point three percent of the houses currently in Chilmark, of the 1,271 houses, are thirty-five hundred feet or less,” Ms. Roddy said.

“I think that we should keep in mind that the average house in Chilmark is 1,666 square feet,” Mr. Bena said. “The average size house in America is 2,500 square feet, so we’re tacking on an extra thousand square feet to the average size home.”

After 90 minutes, planning board chairman Janet Weidner postponed further discussion to the next meeting.

The subcommittee will meet again at 10 am on July 31 at the Chilmark Town Hall.