Below is information on the Chilmark big house bylaw and links to other communities that have attempted to limit house size.
LARGE HOUSES IN CHILMARK
Chilmark is a small town on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, known for its rolling hills, picturesque farms, and beautiful beaches. Its year-round population of 905 (as of 2014) swells dramatically in the summer, as 75% of Chilmark’s 1,606 homes are seasonal. The minimum lot size for new construction in most of Chilmark is 3 acres, though there are many buildable pre-existing undersized lots.
The average house size is 2,350 square feet and more than half of the homes are smaller than 2,500 square feet. In recent years, the size of new houses has been getting bigger, resulting in growing public concern. Typically, larger houses are built as seasonal homes taking advantage of water views. There are 26 houses larger than 6,000 square feet; one of the largest is around 14,000 square feet.
THE CHILMARK BYLAW
Chilmark’s large house bylaw was prepared by the Chilmark Planning Board, which held dozens of public meetings over a year and a half. It was approved by a vote of 162-51 at the April 22, 2013, annual town meeting.
The Planning Board’s goal was to craft a bylaw that allowed reasonable use of property but reduced the negative impacts on abutters and the community at large. The aim was to differentiate between a large, highly visible house on a small property, and a well-designed, well-landscaped house on a large though barely visible property that minimizes its energy consumption and impact on water quality. Also, the aim was to allow additional floor space on larger lots, to remove the incentive to subdivide property and build even more houses. The proposed bylaw requires that applicants for larger homes go through a design review process, which is not needed for more modest homes.
The bylaw allows 3,500 square feet of floor space on a basic 3-acre lot, as of right. Owners can apply for a special permit allowing up to 6,000 square feet, with the Zoning Board of Appeals reviewing the application to ensure that the project’s environmental impacts have been minimized and mitigated. These include visual impact; effects on water quality in coastal ponds; effects on traffic, habitat, and wetlands; energy usage; and effects of exterior lighting. The bylaw allows for an additional 250 square feet for each additional acre of property; smaller lots would have 250 square feet less per acre. It also allows a one-time addition of up to 5% of the floor area, to buildings that already exceed the limit.
The Planning Board calculated that between 2000 and 2013 eight houses had been built that exceeded the new limits. A 2016 modification to the bylaw exempts the square footage of historic homes, to provide a bonus for their preservation. Under Massachusetts law, a town is not allowed to set an absolute limit on the interior size of a house, but jurisprudence indicates that limits that vary by property size, such as in the Chilmark bylaw, are permissible.
You can download the bylaw here.
THE GROWING NATIONAL CONVERSATION
- Los Angeles, California: Record $500 million mega-mansion being built in Los Angeles
- Los Angeles, California: Celebrity developer pleads no contest to Bel-Air mega-mansion charges. But what happens to the 30,000-square foot estate?
- Los Angeles, California: L.A. lawmakers finalize new measures to curb 'mansionization'
- Los Angeles, California: L.A. city council votes to limit size of 'mcmansions'
- Los Angeles, California: Lessons from Beverly Grove's successful fight against McMansions
- Los Angeles, California: Could the anti-development Measure S tank L.A.'s economy?
- Los Angeles, California: L.A. backs measures to roll back 'mansionization' in single-family neighborhoods
- Los Angeles, California: Op-ed, L.A. has a growing mansionization problem
- Los Angeles, California: L.A. takes a step toward tighter rules to curb mansionization
- Los Angeles, California: Attempt to tighten 'McMansion' law spurs outcry
- Los Angeles, California: No more ‘McMansions’ in Los Angeles for two years, says council
- Montecito, California: 'She's created an uproar': Gwyneth Paltrow enrages neighbors with plans to demolish $5million mansion to build 'too big, too tall and incompatible California home'
- Rehoboth, Delaware: Rehoboth cinches large homes with tightened zoning law
- St. Petersburg, Florida: In fight against McMansions, Snell Island residents get a victory- for now
- Oahu, Hawaii: Monster homes are gobbling up Oahu neighborhoods – and it's all legal
- Hinsdale, Illinois: The McMansion's day has come and gone
- Bethesda, Maryland: These neighbors spent $2 million to block a McMansion. Will their bet pay off?
- Nantucket Massachusetts: Judge upholds approval of Hither Creek home
- Sharon, Massachusetts: Balancing act- Sharon considers giving residents of older neighborhoods a say when McMansions replace more modest houses
- Truro, Massachusetts: Truro orders demolition of sprawling mansion situated on landscape painted by artist Edward Hopper
- Truro, Massachusetts: Truro town meeting approves restriction on house sizes in Seashore
- Truro, Masachusetts: UMass Law Review
- Truro, Masachusetts: Truro opens a debate on limiting the size of houses
- Minneapolis, Minnesota: Tighter limits on new home sizes clear initial hurdle
- San Juan County, New Mexico: County poised to ban trophy homes
- East Hampton, New York: East Hampton Village house size limits adopted
- Sag Harbor, New York: Historically black beach enclaves are fighting to save their history and identity
- Sag Harbor, New York: Investors move next door, unsettling a black beachside enclave
- Sag Harbor, New York: The battle of Sag Harbor: historic homes, pricey penthouses, and scores of subpoenas
- East Hampton, New York: East Hampton Village house size limits adopted
- The Hamptons, New York: Oversized mansions targeted in new laws restricting home size in Hamptons villages
- The Hamptons, New York: Hamptons McMansions herald a return of excess
- Southampton, New York: Hamptons largest home hits the market for $35M
- Outer Banks, North Carolina: Southern shores will look at changes to address mega-houses
- Wallowa County, Oregon: Battle brewing over ridge top 'trophy homes'
- Middletown, Rhode Island: Proposed change would place limits on size of houses in Middletown
- Newport, Rhode Island: Newport house is a pariah before it's built
- Newport, Rhode Island: Newport, a city that loves its mansions, shudder at its newest one
- Austin, Texas: McMansions, Development rules for Austin
- Woodstock, Vermont: Vermont town in Budweiser Clydesdale ad fights to save its charm
- Mercer Island, Washington: Mercer Island, land of the luxury home, cracks down on building mansions
DISCUSSION OF MANSIONIZATION
- The Incredible Shrinking Yard!: The size of new homes has been growing for decades now, but it’s coming at the expense of yard space
- McMansions and the Geometry of Zoning: Planning law primer discusses some legal tools for regulating house size
- McMansions or Bash-and-Builds, Some Towns Have Had Enough: An overview of efforts across the country to regulate McMansions
- Spacious Vulgarity: The aesthetics and morals of McMansions
- The Literal Hell of McMansions: The suburban monstrosities fit in a long American tradition of unnatural, ill-constructed, haunted houses.
- The Washington Post: The ultimate symbol of the pre-recession boom is back
- McMansionHell.com: A blog about McMansions