How to preserve the rural character of Chilmark while planning for the future: the question is expected to take center stage when voters consider a proposed bylaw to regulate house size at their annual town meeting Monday night.
After a few years of annual town meetings that were quiet and largely routine, the Chilmark warrant is packed with weighty issues this year, including an $8.1 million operating budget, up nearly five per cent over last year, largely due to increased education costs.
The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center. Moderator Everett Poole will preside over the session; there are 32 articles on the warrant.
If voters agree, Chilmark will be the only Island town to have a bylaw that directly addresses house size. The proposed big house bylaw marks the end of nearly a year and a half of work by the town planning board and a subcommittee made up of volunteers to develop new building guidelines. The public debate has been wide-ranging and at times emotional as town residents, builders and planners from across the Island contributed to the discussion of how best to tackle the issue of super-sized houses.
The proposed bylaw calls for creating a ratio of building size to land area, with a special permit required from the zoning board of appeals for new building projects over 3,500 square feet for a three-acre lot. Home size would be capped at 6,000 square feet per three-acre lot (the minimum zoning in Chilmark). Another 250 square feet per house per acre would be allowed. Substandard lots would also be regulated. Existing homes that exceed the threshold would be allowed a one-time exception to increase living area size by five per cent.
This is the second time a large house bylaw has come before voters; in 1991 the town turned down a bylaw to limit house size.
The proposed bylaw also contains new definitions for total living area and detached bedrooms. Total living area would be defined as all habitable space, excluding decks and basements, while a detached bedroom would he be limited to 400 square feet and may contain a bathroom, but no kitchen.
The two proposals are the last articles on the warrant; both require a two-thirds majority vote.
The planning board used town assessor data to come up with the threshold numbers. That data shows the average house in Chilmark is 2,300 square feet. There are a total of three million square feet in the town of Chilmark; very large houses (more than 6,000 square feet) make up about one per cent of that number.
Mr. Poole said this week he is expecting to receive a petition for a so-called Australian ballot for the proposed bylaw amendment, where voters cast their ballots on slips of paper that are collected by the constable and tallied by the town clerk.
Mr. Poole said it is his practice to allow Australian ballots, but a petition must be submitted no later than Friday, he said.
Lengthy debate is expected on the town meeting floor and Mr. Poole said he does not intend to limit it.
“I don’t believe in cutting anyone off,” the longtime moderator said. “Annual town meeting is the one chance every voter gets to have his say.”
Selectman and board chairman Jonathan Mayhew said his board has not made a decision about whether to speak about the bylaw on the town meeting floor, but Mr. Mayhew said he is “very much in favor” of it.
“For the most part I’m very happy with what they’ve done,” he said. “The planning board has done a great job.”
Planning board chairman Janet Weidner said whatever the outcome, the hard and thorough work of her committee is above reproach.
“I think we’ve come up with a good consensus . . . however it turns out, I’m pleased with what we did,” she said.
The town operating budget is up $360,000, largely due to school spending. Higher student enrollment in the up-Island regional school district and needed repairs to the drainage system at the Chilmark School are the principal added cost centers.
Total education costs budgeted for next year are $3 million, up nearly 10 per cent over last year. The town’s up-Island district assessment is $2.3 million, up $309,000 from last year. The high school assessment has decreased by $53,000. Included in the budget is $100,000 for Chilmark School repairs.
Voters will be asked to approve two debt exemption ballot questions at the annual town election on April 30. The Proposition 2 1/2 questions include $300,000 for the school assessment and $80,000 to go toward the repairs.
A transfer of $300,000 from the general stabilization fund is requested to pay for road resurfacing on Tabor House Road and North Road. If approved, $200,000 will be spent on paving Tabor House Road and $103,000 on North Road. The repaving is part of the town’s long-term resurfacing plan.
Voters will be asked to spend $31,000 for a new police cruiser to replace a vehicle that has over 150,000 miles on it. A corresponding question appears on the annual town election ballot. Other public safety articles include $39,000 from the general stabilization fund for the town’s share of a new ambulance at the Tri-Town Ambulance Service, $30,000 from free cash to the fire department stabilization fund to replace 25-year-old fire apparatus, and $18,000 to upgrade a breathing machine at the fire station.
Community Preservation Act spending articles include $8,600 to go toward preserving historic documents and artifacts at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and $7,600 as the town’s share of a project to replace 26 windows at the county courthouse.
Town executive secretary Tim Carroll told the selectmen this week that the amount of certified free cash may be less than anticipated this year. The final number will not be available until Monday. If the amount, which is certified by the state department of revenue, is less than $97,000, Mr. Carroll said some spending articles will need to be withdrawn on the town meeting floor.
The annual town election is April 30. There are no contests on the ballot and three debt exemption questions for education costs, school repairs and a new police vehicle. Mr. Mayhew is running for re-election.