Updated: Chilmark selectmen discuss tiny house development as possible affordable housing

Selectmen may open one of the town’s three-acre Peaked Hill parcels for this cause.

Chilmark selectman Warren Doty listens to comments at the Chilmark selectmen's meeting. —Edie Prescott

Chilmark board of selectmen meet just once in January. Here are the highlights from the very full agenda of the Tuesday, Jan. 10 meeting:

  • Marina Lent led a discussion about a possible affordable housing development at Peaked Hill, to be made up of four to six tiny (or small) permanently standing homes. The houses would share one well and one septic, and be designed for one- to two-person households.
  • The selectmen decided to have a ballot vote at next town meeting on the safety of moped rentals, potentially restricting their use. The proposal was spearheaded by interim Police Chief Tim Rich. The chief hoped all six towns would vote on the topic at their next town meeting cycle. Edgartown has already closed its warrant, but Chief Rich will try to get a late entry.
  • Selectmen approved the hiring process for a permanent police chief, and they are hoping for on-Island candidates. Applications will be due by Jan. 21, and they hope to appoint a new chief by March 7. The selection committee will include one selectman, one human resources board member (as an observer), one at-large town resident (to be appointed by selectmen), and interim Chief Rich. The committee will select five applicants, and selectmen will interview the final three qualified people.
  • A petition needs at least 10 signatures to be included on the town warrant for the annual meeting. An “immigration petition” with 12 signatures was submitted, and it will be on the warrant for April town meeting.  The article asks town officials, including law enforcement, “to refrain from using town funds and/or resources to enforce federal immigration laws in keeping with current practices, unless presented with a criminal warrant or other evidence of probable cause as required by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
  • Selectman James Malkin has written a letter in response to Chilmark property owner Helen Benham. Ms. Benham has not agreed to allow the use of her family’s property for the site of a new public safety building. She wrote a letter to selectmen to say she did not think the press accurately covered the meeting in which this topic was addressed. Selectmen have not signed the letter yet, so the letter has not been made public.
  • Selectmen discussed changing the boundary line between Chilmark and Aquinnah “down in Menemsha.” This has been passed by the state legislature, and is now on the Governor’s desk. Governor Baker wants to see proof that the two towns have in fact asked for this change themselves. It is expected that the governor will sign this request “in the next couple of days,” executive secretary Tim Carroll said.
  • Selectmen moved to support writing a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game that asks for an additional deer shotgun-hunting season on-Island — possibly two weeks in January — to help reduce the number of Island ticks and the number of people getting sick from tick-borne illness. Biologist Dick Johnson was on hand; he is in the process of asking all Island towns to support the second hunting season. “I’m in favor of culling the herd,” selectman Bill Rossi said.

Don’t call ’em ‘tiny’

Marina Lent, the administrative assistant and inspector for the Chilmark board of health, began her tiny house presentation to the board of selectmen (BOS) by restating “tiny” as “small.” BOS chairman Warren Doty mentioned she had already made another presentation to the Housing Committee earlier that day, and they had decided at that meeting “that perhaps “small houses” was a better way to describe it,” Ms. Lent said.

“As I was preparing this, I went through the housing needs assessment, and I was actually stunned at how many of the households on Martha’s Vineyard, a full 75 percent, are one- and two-person households. The concept is to make better use of town land by having a number of small houses be considered the equivalent of one large single-family four-bedroom home, and the sharing of land, septic, and drinking water is really a way of cutting the most expensive and most difficult factors to fit in and can be done without creating the feeling of extreme high density. The houses are so small they are not slam-jammed together,” Ms. Lent said.

Four small houses would be equivalent to a single four-bedroom family home. Ms. Lent said what triggers a public water source is 15 hookups or 25 individuals. Her scenario does not pull this trigger even if the houses were “doubled up.” She said that even if there were 10 houses on three acres, that would only be 20 people.

Selectman William Rossi thought small homes “up to 800 square feet” would be a more realistic project.

“I understand the need, but I don’t know if I could live with someone in 400 square feet,” Mr. Rossi said. He also said he thought that a house that small is just not sustainable as a suitable living space over time and would get turnover.

Ms. Lent and Mr. Rossi discussed the small house “communities.” They agreed they would need to be permanent and not moveable, in addition to being fully building-code compliant.

Mr. Doty said that each small house would cost much less than a more traditional four-bedroom “affordable” family home that might be built at an affordable housing location. “When you are building far fewer square feet, the savings does add up,” Ms. Lent said.

Chairman Doty said the town has three building lots at Peaked Hill, each about three acres, which were part of the original Peaked Hill subdivision, and they’ve owned them for a long time.

“Is it a good idea to take one of them and put it to a project like this, whether you wind up with four houses or six houses or three houses — is that something we want to do?” Mr. Doty asked.

“I think it’s something we should look into,” selectman Rossi said. “We need to look into what is going to be viable on a three-acre lot.”

“I just don’t like the concept of tiny houses,” Mr. Rossi said. “Small houses I can live with.” He said that there may need to be a zoning bylaw.

“If we have six kitchens on one property, we have a problem,” Mr. Rossi said.

Town Clerk Jennifer Christy will ask planning board chairman Rich Osnoss to get the tiny house idea on a near-term agenda.

“This is a creative idea,” Mr. Doty said.

Immigration policy in Chilmark

A petition that suggested how town officials should interact with federal immigration officials collected 12 signatures, which qualified it to be included on the warrant for town meeting. This generated much discussion.

“This has been received today,” chairman Doty said, “and we are required to put it as an item on the town meeting.” Selectmen were in favor of trying to protect undocumented Island workers from “roundup,” but Chief Rich disagreed with the petition’s wording, saying it went against law enforcement.

“We can’t enforce federal law,” Chief Rich said. “What we can do is detain a person, bring them to the jail, and the jail notifies the feds, and they make a determination if they’re going to come down and pick the person up or not.”

Chief Rich said the petition group has not spoken with the district attorney’s office, and that he himself has just retaken an oath of office, and that contempt is an issue if officials “stand in the way.”

“We need to make a statement that we do not support undocumented deportation,” Mr. Doty said.

A location for the new fire station

The town has identified a parcel next to the community center as their choice for site of a new fire station. Helen Benham, who owns the land, has refused to sell it to the town. “I’ve heard lots of feedback from lots of people about eminent domain,” said Mr. Doty. “It’s an issue we hoped we were avoiding by talking to landowners and seeing if we could come to an agreement, so it’s still up in the air.”

Mr. Doty reported that Tom Ruimerman, an engineer by profession and former volunteer fireman, has suggested that the old fire safety building be torn down and a new one built on the same site. Selectmen would like the public safety building committee to review Mr. Ruimerman’s drawing. “I’m anxious to keep this issue moving along,” Mr. Doty said. An aerial photo of the proposed new public safety building can be seen at the town’s website.

Other agenda items

Selectmen approved the dates for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) — March 16 to 19. The approval is for the period March 13 through 21, which includes days beforehand for setting up and days afterward for breaking down and cleaning up. There will be no alcohol served, and BYOB is not allowed. MVFF will pay $400 per day for CCC use, and there will be no reserved parking.

John Tiernan of Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Co. has requested a street license to get access to Chilmark roadways in Ford E350 Econoline 15-passenger vans. He has a new tour company. The vans’ route is along South Road from the West Tisbury town line to State Road, and then on State Road to the town line with Aquinnah, and then the reverse.

Mr. Tiernan owns the Dockside Inn, and his Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Co. partner Caleb Caldwell owns Nashua House and the Madison Inn. A required public hearing was set for Feb. 7 at 5 pm at town hall. Selectmen were supportive, as no passengers would be getting out of the vans, just driven through town with no stops at beaches or Menemsha.

Town clerk Jennifer Christy alerted selectmen to a new public records law that requires a “records access officer (RAO)” needs to be appointed. The selectmen considered whether the law should apply to every department head, and that the town should have many RAOs. It was decided that for now only Ms. Christy will be appointed an RAO and after the March training, some changes may be made

The Menemsha harpoon sculpture has been restored in Pennsylvania. Selectmen approved its return to its beach location. There may be a permit needed to put a cement block on the sand. “I think it’s part of the landscape. I hope it won’t meet any resistance from the conservation commission,” selectman Rossi said.