Zoning laws help us all


To the Editor:

This week we had a chance to watch the West Tisbury Planning Board process an application for a building project that far exceeded the size limits allowed by the existing zoning law. This well designed proposal is in a sensitive, exposed area and additionally asked for relief from setback and height restrictions. The town had just completed a new bylaw limiting the size of new houses to 3,500 square feet, allowing some exceptions by special permit, with the applicant adhering to a list of 12 guidelines. This was put to a vote last year and the voters approved it overwhelmingly, showing a strong wish to retain the rural nature of the town.

As the meeting progressed, we were impressed with the board’s patience and fair-minded attitude. The members all said that they were inclined to deny the application but offered the applicants the option to redesign and return for a decision this Summer, avoiding the required two-year wait to reapply. The applicants said they preferred the option to redesign, but complained that the 12 point guidelines for exception to the size limit were “too vague.” And as they asked for the specifics on how to conform, the board’s answers were what impressed us. Two-and-a-half years of advice and consent, along with legal consultation went into the language of this bylaw, and by its own nature, could not be prescriptive; general guidelines only and not prerequisites. 

Still, a sense of something unresolved hung in the air. It was finally broken with the suggestion that If the applicants wanted definitive guidelines, they should consult the Town’s zoning handbook.

We think this is one of the first real tests of the new “Big House By-law,” and the board handled it with respect and clarity. Hats off to them.

John Becker and Valerie Becker

West Tisbury