West Tisbury residents give feedback about housing bylaw

Presentation attracts 70 people, mixed reactions. 

A "slightly outdated" map shared during the presentation shows locations that have housing size limitations.

The West Tisbury planning board hosted a presentation by Preserve West Tisbury, a subcommittee of the board, about a proposed “residential construction size bylaw” during a Monday evening meeting. The Times covered some of the main details about the proposed bylaw earlier this month. This presentation, attended by about 70 people, was done to gain feedback, but it was not a public hearing. 

“For the most part, we’re really here to listen to all of you and get feedback,“ Samantha Look, a member of Preserve West Tisbury, said before she led the presentation. Look said there were four primary goals associated with the bylaw: protecting West Tisbury’s rural and natural environment, providing a supply of year-round housing for the town’s residents, offering opportunities for businesses without changing the town’s character, and providing a “scenic and ecologically healthy” environment for both year-round and seasonal residents. Look also pointed to how the bylaw gives West Tisbury a tool to carefully review “higher-impact projects,” and that the bylaw is in line with the town’s goal to be run by 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Additionally, Look said, houses have been gradually growing in size in West Tisbury. 

West Tisbury would not be the only town to have this bylaw if accepted. Look said Chilmark has a similar bylaw, which was partly the model for West Tisbury’s proposed bylaw, and she also showed a map of other American counties, cities, and towns that have accepted bylaws limiting house sizes, such as San Juan County in Colorado, Seattle, Wash., and Provincetown.

Overall, the audience’s reactions were mixed. However, there were plenty of criticisms during the question and answer section.

Some people, such as West Tisbury resident Hilary Moore, were worried the proposed bylaw could harm people in the middle class.

“Beyond the entire idea of this possibly hurting my [construction] business, on a personal level, and I could be wrong and misunderstanding the rules behind it, but,” Moore said, she’s worried about the process and costs of special permits. “As a young professional with a growing family, I see this hurting me more than it hurts my wealthy clientele.”

“It is a concern of ours, absolutely. We’re not trying to leave people behind, we’re trying to make it possible for people like you to be here,” Preserve West Tisbury member Bruce McNalley said. 

George Sourati, owner of Sourati Engineering Group, expressed concern over differences between Chilmark’s bylaw and West Tisbury’s proposed bylaw. In particular, he talked about what structures are allowed, such as basements and screen porches. McNalley said the subcommittee was trying to limit the mass of the house. 

“Just pointing out, it is more restrictive than Chilmark’s when it comes to screen porches, outside walls, whether we include them or not, basements,” Sourati said. “In Chilmark, you can do a 6,000-square-foot house on three acres with a special permit, and have porches in addition to that. Here, the house is 5,000 square feet, we cannot do basements that are open to living space, which is fine, just fine, I understand that. But … it would be nice if the area with the screen porches can be moved down toward the 2,000-square-foot [floor area] limit.”

“It’s critical to hear the input from the public,” Preserve West Tisbury associate member Whit Griswold said. “I only say that this isn’t Chilmark. There are those differences, and we came up with different solutions.” 

McNalley also said the subcommittee recognized it cannot possibly find every single “loophole” people may find in the proposed bylaw

Others expressed appreciation for the subcommittee’s work, although they still had comments about how the proposed bylaw could be improved. 

West Tisbury finance committee member Doug Ruskin said he recognized that the energy efficiency requirements may be disagreeable to some people. However, he did not want it to be considered “aspirational,” since West Tisbury has a goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy power by 2040. “Those energy issues have to be taken really, really seriously,” Ruskin said. 

Attendee Marc Rosenbaum expressed concern about pre-existing houses and the sizing limits. He was worried the bylaw could penalize people who live in places with smaller lots. 

A couple of people were fairly satisfied with the presented bylaw. Chris Murphy and Paul Rashba only had “some minor things” about the presented bylaw, and appreciated the subcommittee’s “hard work.”

The goal is to have the proposed bylaw go to town meeting in April, according to West Tisbury planning board member Leah Smith. Another session to gain feedback will be planned for the future. 

“Everyone in this group [Preserve West Tisbury] lives here year-round, has family, home businesses, work in the community. We are you, you are us. So, your concerns are our concerns,” West Tisbury planning board member Amy Upton said. 

To send in a comment, or to get more information, contact the planning board at planningboard@westtisbury-ma.gov


  1. Correcting a previous statement I made. This law is 100% legal – see SJC case 81 Spooner Road vs Brookline Ma . I support 3500 limit and I agree with Sourati, I would like to see basements not included in sf calc. The legal case mentioned above allowed basements to be used after 10 years. Otherwise people will build the max sf above ground.

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