Advisory Committee Grapples with Two Massive House Plans

By MANDY LOCKE

The Edgartown Ponds Area Advisory Committee this week began its review of two new house proposals for the margins of Edgartown Great Pond - the latest in the steady stream of massive home projects hitting Edgartown these days.

Both 10,000-square-foot houses, if approved by the conservation commission, would occupy heavily wooded lots on the western side of Kanomika Neck - a narrow strip of land jutting into Edgartown Great Pond.

Slated for the last two of six the parcels in the Kanomika Neck Association, the new houses would dwarf existing homes in the neighborhood and swallow nearly all of the building envelope on the 4.9-acre and 6.2-acre properties. Both owners - Steven Meadow and Scott and Laurene Sperling - also intend to construct in-ground swimming pools.

Vineyard architect Joanne Gosser said she is "not having much luck" asking the Sperling family to trim the seven-bedroom, seven-and-a-half-bathroom family retreat.

Kanomika Neck neighbors flooded the conservation commission with letters of protest this week, urging the board to table the requests until town voters steer Edgartown's regulatory boards to control large-scale homes.

"It appears that ongoing efforts by the town of Edgartown to find more effective ways of dealing with the issues of residential scale, mass and siting may take some time. Meanwhile, buyers of buildable property are actively seeking approval to construct massive houses in inappropriate locations around Edgartown ponds. To the extent that applicants are successful in beating the town across the finish line, the damage inflicted on the surroundings and health of the ponds will be irreparable," declared a group of seven Kanomika Neck residents in a letter to the conservation commission.

The new projects come one week after the Edgartown planning board finally gave a nod of approval to a controversial house proposed for Wasque point, which had been trimmed from 10,000 to 7,400 square feet after the board rejected the larger version in November. It's been exactly one year since the conservation commission reluctantly approved a 10,000-square-foot house on the edge of Oyster Pond. Nine months have passed since Edgartown voters killed zoning articles aimed to limit residential footprints on Chappaquiddick as well as Edgartown ponds.

And in three months, voters will be asked to take up the house size issue again. The ponds advisory committee seeks a better legal basis for making scale and design suggestions to property owners wanting to build within the ponds district of critical planning concern.

"The new proposed guidelines have not been passed at town meeting. These applications got sent to us from the conservation commission," said ponds advisory committee chairman Steve Ewing Monday afternoon, repeating a line he's been forced to say more than a few times over the past year. The Oyster Pond mansion won approval after the advisory committee persuaded Robert Levine to shrink a 30,000-square-foot home he wanted to build 30 paces from the pond's edge. But as the advisory committee's name suggests, it has no enforcement powers.

After town residents failed to impose a 21-foot cap on house height in the ponds district last spring, Mr. Ewing and the advisory committee went back to the drawing board. Instead of creating a hard and fast size limit, the conservation commission will add the advisory group's review function to bylaws created in the 1989 district of critical planning concern designation for Edgartown ponds. Legal counsel has suggested that the review committee will have more influence under the DCPC than under the town's wetland bylaws.

The bylaw change was ready for a special town meeting last fall, but selectmen urged the board to hold the potentially controversial article for the annual town meeting.

The planning board - which has also addressed the issue house size without clear regulations defining their authority - wanted to place a house size zoning article on the warrant this spring. Because the board failed to hold what the selectmen viewed as adequate public hearings on the matter before the January deadline for bylaw proposals, selectmen would not accept such an article. This is the second year, selectmen said, that they have warned the planning board about the importance of public discussion.

The town will likely remain at a crossroads - caught in a tug-of-war between residents outraged by massive homes in their neighborhoods and town bylaws largely silent on the issue of house size and scale. Five homes larger than 9,000 square feet have been erected in Edgartown in the last five years, but only one has come before town boards for anything more than a landscape plan.

Two articles regarding house size will make their way before voters this spring - petitioned by town residents who want to limit house size on Chappaquiddick.

In the meantime, Kanomika Neck association residents are reading and rereading covenant restrictions that accompanied the 1983 sale and subdivision of the 32-acre property sold by Jeremiah MacKenty. The $1.17 million sale was then the highest price per acre the Vineyard had seen.

But the covenants - which restrict guest houses on the six parcels and regulate tree clearing - may prove powerless in limiting the size of houses which will cover more than a quarter of the parcels' land.

"Each of the proposed houses is at least three times the average size of the existing six houses on Kanomika Road. The two proposed houses combined are larger than the aggregate of the six existing houses. While any development has some impact on its surroundings and environment, the impact of massive projects such as these is not only magnified but can be exponentially so," the neighbors said in their letter to the ponds advisory committee.