There was talk of class warfare and fascism. There were dark forecasts of Martha’s Vineyard as a community polarized between very rich and very poor. There was a crowd. Last Monday’s was not your standard meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission land use planning committee.

But as commission executive director Mark London noted even before it began, there’s something about the subject of big houses which gets people going.

Inside, there were not enough chairs for the 50-odd people who turned up, a crowd pretty evenly split between those concerned about the social and environmental impacts of the proliferation of large houses and those concerned about the economic effects of any moves to impose new regulation on such development.

The discussion was scheduled as part of a regular, two-yearly review, conducted by the commission subcommittee of the criteria determining when applications for development need to be referred for vetting under its development of regional impact (DRI) checklist.

It was animated by a submission from the Vineyard Conservation Society that any residence of more than 4,000 square feet, or having a built-environment footprint — including main residence, guest house, accessory structures and other improvements — of more than 7,500 square feet should attract DRI review.

The chairman of the land use planning committee, Douglas Sederholm, opened proceedings up by vigorously asserting the commission’s neutrality on the matter of regulating McMansions.

“I want to make it abundantly clear the MVC is not advocating putting large houses on the DRI checklist,” he said.

Rather, he said, it was opening the issue up because it was aware that a lot of other people wanted to talk about it. In particular, Mr. Sederholm noted the conservation society proposal, which he called provocative.

VCS executive director Brendan O’Neill, the first to speak, acknowledged the 4,000-square-foot threshold was “a rather provocative idea we put out there for purposes of discussion.”

The suggestion was not that construction larger than that should be stopped, but that the commission should have “some kind of enhanced authority” to look at the impacts of big houses, on neighborhoods, water quality, habitat, energy use — “and the one we keep hearing about” — views, Mr. O’Neill said.

Left unchecked, the proliferation of big houses will change the whole character of the Vineyard for the worse, he said.

Mark London. — Brian Jolley

The commission’s DRI process is used to examine the impacts of individual projects; one of the main points made by Mr. O’Neill and others who spoke in favor of regulation was that it needed to consider the cumulative impact of big houses.

They drive up real estate prices, for example, but also require staffs of maintenance workers who find it increasingly unaffordable to live here.

Still Georgiana Greenough, assistant to the Edgartown planning board, said she could not see how big houses “make for a regional impact.”

Responded Kaysea Hart of West Tisbury: “What if every house was 11,000 square feet and someone like me couldn’t afford to live here?”

Commission member Holly Stephenson took up the point.

“It seems to me that all of the impacts are regional impacts. Visual impact, disruption of community character, loss of habitat, consumption of energy, deterioration of water quality, encouragement of tear-downs and loss of affordable homes Every one of those things is a regional impact. It’s cumulative,” she said.

Then it came down to examples. West Tisbury planning board cochairman Virginia Jones said one part of her town was continually complaining and threatening “to go up in verbal flames” because of development which had gone on “from 7 a.m. until dark, over the course of 10 years.”

The back-and-forth of big trucks, she said was “very destructive of neighborhoods.”

Bruce Rosinoff of VCS, who first floated the idea of a 4,000-square-foot threshold for review, said he believed many of the projects would be much better for the oversight of the commission. And many owners would be willing to work with local authorities in order to fit in with community expectations, he said.

“We’re not trying to get into social engineering or to start class warfare here, but these things are outrageously ostentatious in some cases,” he said.

But to some who do the big construction jobs, class warfare was exactly what it sounded like.

Said Gary Maynard, owner of Holmes Hole Builders: “I think the real class warfare is against young people whose only prospect of a reasonable living on the Island is in the construction trades.”

Big house construction had contributed to making for a “very remarkable” industry on the Island, a collection of exceptional craftspeople who did “incredibly high-end work,” he said.

“It would be a shame to shoot that in the foot in this process,” Mr. Maynard said, adding: “Ninety per cent of the good jobs on the Island, where people can afford to buy a house and not have to have an affordable house handed to them, were people working in construction.”

Mr. Maynard said he builds 4,000-plus-square-foot houses and his business employs 30 people directly and another 30 as subcontractors.

During the economic downturn of the past few years there would have been an “utter collapse” in his industry, with knock-on effects throughout the Island economy, he said.

He and Peter Rosbeck, another high-end builder, suggested hundreds of people would have been left without work but for high-end construction.

Mr. Maynard said he also struggled with the size and aesthetics of some of the things that were built, “but unfortunately we’re not fascists and we can’t dictate that.”

He wondered aloud if it was just the obvious wealth that some people objected to and noted that there were a lot of big, old houses which had long been part of the Island landscape.

As for the impact on the Island way of life, he noted that the people who paid $10 million for harborfront land and put up big trophy homes were the same ones who “paid huge sums to the land bank, VCS, firehouse, hospital.”

These are the people who made the community what it is, he said.

His comments took an edge at times.

“I also noticed there was a proliferation this summer in the harbor of really large ugly yachts,” he said. “You think you guys could work on that too? Maybe we shouldn’t allow people to fly in on private jets too.”

Mr. Rosbeck said aesthetics come down to opinion.

“I think there are a lot of small houses on this Island I wouldn’t want to live next to,” he said.

He called the idea of any further regulation “dangerous,” and said he believed difficulties with Island regulations had turned some wealthy people away from the Vineyard.

Holly Stephenson rejoined the argument, saying that if one accepted the premises of the builders — that construction drives the Island economy, that very large houses are what people wanted and regulation would drive them to go elsewhere — “you’re going to end up on an Island of very rich people in very ugly houses and poor people in affordable housing that work for those people and no middle class and no quality of life at all.”

People have a right to stand up for some form of planning, she said.

Mr. Sederholm repeatedly attempted to steer the discussion back to the specifics of what form regulation should take, if any.

Should the threshold for referral simply be one of size, or should it relate to energy use, nitrogen loading, the waste stream, power usage? Should the commission be more involved, or should it be a matter for the towns?

There were a few specific suggestions. Nora Nevin of the West Tisbury conservation commission said relative size matters, that a 10-bedroom house in the middle of 100 acres might be viewed differently from one in town “cheek by jowl” with existing three-bedroom homes.

Mark London noted that in Massachusetts the zoning act prohibits towns from regulating the internal dimensions of housing. But that does not mean towns cannot regulate at all. On the Vineyard, Aquinnah has used its townwide district of critical planning concern designation to review houses over 2,000 square feet, and West Tisbury has achieved some success with site plan reviews. Towns are empowered to adopt zoning rules relating to things like density and setbacks to ensure new homes fit their neighborhoods.

But by and large, Monday night’s discussion did not move much past the positions of those who want some kind of regulation versus those who want none.

The commission now will take several months to consider what was said and to take further comments, before reaching a position probably late this year.