Edgartown Grants Land Owner Choice on House Size Plan

By MANDY LOCKE

The Edgartown conservation commission Wednesday night drew a line in the sand - forcing an Edgartown Great Pond property owner to reduce his house proposal or take his case to the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

"The scope of this house will have numerous impacts on the pond - views and vistas, vegetation, wildlife and the pond itself, all things we protect under the Wetlands Protection Act," said Peter Vincent, the conservation commission chairman who led the move to cap the house proposal at 5,000 square feet, 60 per cent of Scott and Laurene Sperling's request.

Two massive home projects have been proposed for the undeveloped parcels remaining on Kanomika Neck, a thin strip of land jutting into the northern side of Edgartown Great Pond. The parcels measure 4.9 and 6.2 acres. The other applicant, who has an option to buy the smaller property, suspended review of their 10,800-square-foot house by the conservation commission earlier this month to watch how the Sperling family's request fared.

"It's a very sensitive point. Houses probably shouldn't have been built out there to begin with," Mr. Vincent said moments before the unanimous vote to allow only a 5,000-square-foot house.

The Sperlings' six-bedroom family retreat would have dwarfed the four homes - ranging in size from 3,000 to 3,700 square feet - already built on Kanomika Neck.

"The pattern of size has been established by the other houses already there. And the pattern of impact has been determined by the amount of land they are using," said conservation commission member Christina Brown.

The board stopped short of an outright denial - forcing a substantial reduction in size before granting permission to build.

"Having said all this, I think the applicant has a right to have a house on his land," Mr. Vincent said.

But the conservation commission said that's as far as they would go - informing the applicant's architect Joanne Gosser that any attempts to bypass their size limitation will result in a discretionary referral to the Martha's Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact.

The conservation commission refused to further entertain the Sperlings' request to build a swimming pool on their property. Tests performed in August of 1993 indicate the water table is just eight and a half feet below ground level, and the Sperlings' pool would reach eight feet in the deepest end.

"A pool should simply not be allowed this close to the water table," said Mr. Vincent.

At least one conservation commission member wished that the board could have given the Sperlings some indication of the size hurdle when they first applied for a 30,000-square-foot building envelope on the property last summer.

"I feel a little troubled that when the applicant came in [last summer], we didn't let him know this was coming," Mr. Lollis said.

"He knew it was an area protected under the Wetlands Protection Act and under a district of critical planning concern. He knew he was going into a sensitive area, and if he didn't know that, he was ill-advised," Mr. Vincent said.

The conservation commission flexed muscle Wednesday night that they've doubted they had for more than a year. Over the last year and a half, the board reluctantly waved enormous homes through their wetland bylaw review, while expressing frustration at the regulations' lack of clarity on house size limits.

But Wednesday night, it seemed the conservation commission had seen enough of massive homes on the shores of Edgartown ponds.

"How are we supposed to mitigate impacts if we don't limit size of houses?" asked Steve Ewing, Edgartown conservation commission member and chairman of the ponds advisory committee that recommended referring the project to the MVC.

"But there aren't firm guidelines [about size]," Mr. Lollis said.

"We've allowed certain sizes up until now," Mr. Ewing said.

"It doesn't mean we can't learn from our errors," said Mr. Vincent.

"And we've screwed up a lot over the years," Mr. Ewing replied.

Edgartown voters will be asked to give the Edgartown ponds advisory committee - an advisory arm of the conservation commission established to review projects within 700 feet of ponds - more teeth at the annual town meeting. By placing a description of their role under DCPC bylaws instead of just under town wetland bylaws, the town's legal counsel feels the committee's recommendations will have more standing in the courts.

Conservation commission members Mr. Vincent, Ms. Brown, Mr. Lollis, Mr. Ewing and Lil Province voted to approve a 5,000-square-foot house on the Sperling property. Mr. Vincent, Mr. Lollis, Mr. Ewing and Ms. Province voted in favor of a tentative Martha's Vineyard Commission referral if revised plans or an appeal seeks more than 5,000 square feet. Ms. Brown abstained because she is a member of the MVC.