Some residents are pushing back against Aquinnah’s building permit process, claiming the new fee unfairly punishes high-end homes. 

Architect Phil Regan of Hutker Architects went to the select board Tuesday to represent his clients that have received sticker shock from the new building permit process. The town of Aquinnah, which shares a building inspector with the town of Chilmark, calculates its building permit fee by charging $10 for every $1,000 of construction. 

For a $4 million-dollar home, that translates to a $40,000 building permit fee, Mr. Regan said. 

“You might think if someone can afford a $4 million house they can afford a $40,000, but it’s not that clear-cut,” he said. 

Mr. Regan suggested a fee based on square footage or another metric might be more manageable for homeowners, particularly when luxury amenities have little to no bearing on a house’s adherence to building codes, he said. 

“I have clients who say that’s not anybody’s business how much I spend on my house,” he said. “The town doesn’t need to know how much they’re spending on wood floors or anything else.” 

Building inspector Adam Petkus defended the new system, adding that the town of Falmouth uses the same system with a fee of $8, Chilmark charges $6.50, and Provincetown charges $12. The difference in multipliers, he said, accounts for both the range of services provided and the volume of work in the town. Aquinnah is the smallest town on Martha’s Vineyard, with considerably less development than its up-Island neighbors.

That being said, Mr. Petkus added that every building department on the Island will soon revisit its building permit system in light of increased development and changing building standards.

“The level of building and the level of permit review is getting much more intense…and [projects] need to be scrutinized so much more,” he said.

Select board members stood by the building inspector and said they had no intention of changing the policy, although they are willing to hear concerns. For decades, the previous building permit fee had been a flat $900, select board member Tom Murphy said. 

When the new fee system went into effect last year, several residents midway through the building process went to the select board to complain and received exemptions, including musician and lifelong Aquinnah resident Kate Taylor. Mr. Petkus said the town will continue to accommodate year-round residents, first-time homeowners, or those with financial hardships, but will not give a pass to luxury projects.

“Elective projects such as summer homes, vacation homes…will now pick up the bill for those services,” he said. “It’s not a money grab – it’s a check and balance.” 

Mr. Regan pointed out that luxury homeowners do contribute by paying taxes to the town of Aquinnah, and the new process may discourage homeowners from disclosing the full cost of their construction. 

“I think every single applicant is going to be questioning what’s in or what’s out or concealing…certain line items,” he said.