Edgartown mulls new zoning bylaws

The zoning changes could increase new housing opportunities and cut down on impervious surfaces.

The Edgartown Planning Board has forwarded a number of proposed warrant articles to the town's select board for consideration. —MV Times

Edgartown voters will likely get a chance to act on a number of zoning changes at the spring town meeting, ranging from limitations on tree cutting on residential property to increasing the number of housing units allowed within a building.

Edgartown planning board members on Tuesday heard from Julia Livingston, Edgartown zoning board of appeals alternate and member of the zoning bylaw review subcommittee, who presented nearly a dozen proposed warrant articles that would change the town’s existing regulations.

Included were a handful of housing-related zoning bylaw amendments, such as restrictions on all fractional-ownership properties in residential zones, fewer regulations for development on substandard lots, and an updated “big house” bylaw, which would limit residential lot intensity to 10,000 square feet of built space. 

Other proposals receiving support from the planning board Tuesday included bylaw changes geared toward mixed-use housing and amendments to staff housing regulations; employers wouldn’t be required to own, and could instead rent dwellings — not exclusively in residential zones — for staff and members of the Island workforce. 

The approved proposals have been forwarded to the town’s select board for consideration. 

The planning board also voted in favor of changing the number of units allowed in a single building, from four to six. The goal, Livingston said, is to make it easier for people to build small dwelling units on their property. The bylaw, which increases the capacity of a multi-unit building, would require homeowners’ agreement to a deed restriction, and prohibit renting out the units on a short-term basis or as a timeshare. 

That proposal, if approved, would come with a provision that a building’s exterior design look like a single-family home, and similar aesthetically to neighboring homes. Homeowners looking to build a six-unit dwelling would still need permission from the planning board via a special permit. 

A proposal that would allow homeowners more regulatory flexibility in constructing a year-round accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on their property was ultimately turned down, with planning board members raising concerns about excessive development in residential zones. That item will not be taken up by the town or its voters, with the board’s vote. 

The planning board also greenlighted a few proposed articles geared toward implementing the Island’s climate change mitigation plans.

Presented as a revision to the existing tree bylaw, one proposal is designed “to bring it a little more into line with what other cities and towns are doing,” Livingston said. 

Edgartown’s current tree bylaw, which protects trees larger than four inches in diameter, calls for preserving trees on the perimeter of properties, but allows for clear-cutting in the middle of the property. 

The new bylaw would affect not only trees in the setback perimeter of a property, but throughout the whole lot. Any existing tree with a diameter (at breast height) of six inches or greater would be considered protected, and if it were removed, it would have to be replaced. If homeowners decided not to replace the tree, they could opt to pay $1,000 for each protected tree removed, which would go into a town tree fund. 

“If you’re building a home in the woods, it’s going to be a home in the woods,” Livingston said. “You’re not going to take down all the trees and make it a big lawn.”

Another proposed bylaw forwarded to the select board Tuesday aims to set a limit on how much of a residential property can be covered by impervious surfaces. Per the proposal, the total amount of impervious surface that would be permitted on a lot would be limited to 20 percent of the total lot area, or 3,000 square feet, whichever is greater. The bylaw slightly exceeds the recommendation of 15 percent/2,500 square feet set out by the state. 

The planning board–approved proposals will now come under review by the Edgartown Select Board before being taken up as warrant articles by voters at the annual town meeting.