A California woman who owns a spectacular property overlooking the ocean in Chilmark has been told she can't rent the spot out for any more weddings. Jacqueline Carlin said she feels she has been unfairly treated and needs the rents to keep ownership of her property.
It is not unusual in Chilmark for property owners with postcard views to rent their property. But Ms. Carlin pushed the edge when she established a web site on the Internet and began marketing her land as Martha's Vineyard Great Gatsby Estate and, as an absentee property owner, began booking weddings.
Last November, responding to neighbors' complaints, the town building inspector, Lenny Jason, got in touch with Ms. Carlin and asked her to stop booking weddings on the property, which overlooks Stonewall Beach. "I told her not to book any more weddings and I wanted a list of what events she had scheduled for 2004. I told her I wasn't going to break any bride's heart, so she could finish the year. She said she had tentatively booked a wedding for 2005 and five for 2004. I said that was fine; don't do any more," Mr. Jason said.
As far as Mr. Jason is concerned, he said: "She complied."
The neighbors were still not happy.
The neighbors took the issue to the town zoning board of appeals. They sought to stop the wedding business entirely and force the building inspector to issue a cease and desist order.
Bill Rossi, chairman of the zoning board of appeals, said yesterday his board met May 11 and listened to the complaints. They then upheld the building inspector's ruling.
But Ms. Carlin came before the Chilmark selectmen last week to get further relief, asking what steps she might take on her own behalf since she was not able to attend the zoning board meeting and cannot attend a selectmen's meeting June 15, when the neighbors plan to complain again to the town about the planned weddings.
The issue of how private property in town can be used commercially is being raised in this matter. Mr. Jason said there are a number of people in Chilmark who rent their properties. It begs a question: "At what point does your house become a commercial venture? A lot of people rent their houses in this town. If they decide to have a birthday party, sometimes there might be a nuisance. Is that a commercial use?" Mr. Jason asked.
A wedding rental becomes problematic when neighbors complain, Mr. Jason said. "No one has the right to intrude on the rights of the neighbors to tranquility," he said.
Ms. Carlin's property is one of the prettiest sites on the south shore of Chilmark. It is listed in town records as 3.7 acres, and assessed for $4.4 million. The house is assessed at $1 million and the land is assessed at $3.4 million.
Mr. Rossi said his board stands behind the building inspector. "My feeling is that we reached a compromise. Ultimately, we always try to make sense out of what is being done and to back up our zoning official. Mr. Jason is very experienced. The neighbors will deal with five weddings and it will not be the end of the world," he said.
But Mr. Jason also asked Ms. Carlin to remove the reference to weddings from her web site. Yesterday, the site - www.jjacqueline.com/vineyardb.html - still had the reference to weddings. It reads: "A perfect location for weddings, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's celebrations."
Will she change the web site? Ms. Carlin said not yet. "It costs too much and I am not sure about the outcome," she said. She said she gets calls all the time about weddings, but is telling potential customers to wait. She said: "I have gotten a lot of calls. I tell them I don't know yet, I am trying to get some advice. That is why I went to the selectmen."
This is no big operation, no bigger than others in town, she said. Last year she booked five or six weddings on the property. "The weddings were in June, September and October. I never have them in the summer at the height of the season. Not once did I get a complaint. I would have worked with the neighbors if they had called."
She said she charges from $7,000 to $15,000 a week to rent her house; the rental includes a wedding.
Ms. Carlin said she is a divorcee struggling with economic hardship and that the extra income helps her to make ends meet.
Selectman Warren Doty said his board has very little influence on this matter. He said the selectmen might take steps that impact the whole town, but that they could not act on this particular circumstance.
Ms. Carlin said she is still struggling with legal and economic issues since her divorce and cannot make it from California back to the Vineyard for the scheduled June 15 selectmen's meeting with the neighbors.
Yesterday she told the Gazette she plans to live in the house someday, once the matters of her divorce are over. "My plan has always been to live in the house. I designed every inch of it," she said. A web site describes the property as featuring five bedrooms, including a bunk area, and six baths, and adds, "Sleeps 12-14."
She feels she has been unfairly picked upon by her neighbors, that there are underlying issues behind the wedding complaint. She said: "A neighbor wants to build along the coastal bank on my deeded access to the beach." She said she plans to oppose that effort.
She said she has been selective about the renters and wonders why she is being singled out when other residents do the same. "There are very nice people in Chilmark who rent their properties. I have not booked any additional weddings, but I want to get legal advice. Other people have web sites. They go through real estate offices that use the Internet. That is all the same. I want the laws to apply equally to everyone."
Mr. Rossi said: "Some properties lend themselves to these kind of events and they don't intrude on the neighbors' peace and quiet. This obviously intruded on the peace and quiet of the neighbors. The town has to look at this and talk about it. Maybe there is a bylaw [to be written] dealing with how many weddings can be in one calendar year."