The Chilmark conservation commission voted this week to allow a house and several outbuildings dangerously close to the edge of a cliff overlooking Stonewall Beach to be relocated.
The plan calls for the main house of 1,100 square feet to be demolished and a smaller version rebuilt 500 feet farther back from the coastal embankment, as well as the relocation of three small bunkhouses. The new location of the structures is within 50 feet of a freshwater wetland. The houses, located on Greenhouse Lane and owned by the Langmuir family, now stand 10 feet away from the cliff with a deep fissure five feet from the main house.
The Langmuir house is the second relocation plan in the last three months that the commission has reviewed due to severe erosion. In February, the commission ordered the removal of neighboring home owned by Natalie Conroy, also on Greenhouse Lane.
Surveyor for the Langmuir project Reid Silva said the proposal was a long-term solution.
“The intent is to remove all of the structures, including the utilities, from this location and re-establish it at the rear of the lot, which has a dry hill,” surveyor Reid Silva said at the commission’s weekly meeting on Wednesday. “This will last quite a few years. This is not a short term plan.”
According to current assessors records, the Langmuirs own 4.2 acres of land. The area includes a low grassland, mowed twice a year, the wetland and a mowed area where the houses are located.
To access the new location 500 feet back from the edge of the cliff, the commission approved a new driveway off of Greenhouse Lane. The driveway currently exists as a 20-foot right of way on the backside of the property and hugs the stonewall property line. Construction of the new driveway will require some of the stones to be removed and later replaced.
The new main house will be 920 square feet with 250 square feet of decking and will be placed on concrete tubes, rather than digging a new foundation; the three outbuildings also will be placed on a pier system. The bunkhouses cannot be moved as a unit because they are “too big and there are too many trees” on the small road, Mr. Silva said. The bunkhouses will be disassembled, placed on a small trailer and moved to the rear of the property via the existing road, and rebuilt
The proposed plan does not meet the 50-foot setback requirement and will need a special permit from the town zoning board of appeals before the move and construction can begin. The plan also requires approval from the board of health and site review committee.
The plan is complicated by the fact that the property directly abuts a freshwater wetland. The new location of the structures is within 50 feet of the wetland but is located at the highest part of the lot, Mr. Silva said. The proposed plan calls for the septic system to be 94 feet from the wetland and 160 feet from the well near the new driveway.
Commission member Chris Murphy questioned whether the plan violated bylaws that prohibited construction within 100 feet of a wetland. But commission chairman Pamela Goff said the commission handles each proposal on a case-by-case basis.
“We have precedents for this in the same situation, where there has been rapidly-eroding coastal bank and we have allowed houses to be relocated
closer to freshwater wetland,” she said, referring to the Ms. Conroy’s original move of the house last year which abuts the same wetland. That home was previously moved back 26 feet, but further erosion left it near the edge with no room to relocate the structure. One year later, the conservation commission ordered its removal.
Mrs. Goff said she was comfortable with this proposal because the replacement home “looks like a one-on-one replacement, and very modest.”
Mrs. Goff also said when the commission made their site visit on Tuesday, she found the area leading up to the wetland had been mowed too close to the boundary and recommended a buffer zone be established to clearly designate the area.
Mr. Murphy urged the applicants to consider the least intrusive options, and said a plan would be more “palatable” if the wetland area would be untouched and the surrounding fields allowed to grow freely.
Jane Langmuir said she and her family were committed to protecting the area.
“I respect what you’re saying and I couldn’t agree with you more,” she said. “Respecting that wetland is a very important thing. I will totally encourage that and don’t think we need to make it a huge field and impinge on that.”
Karl Langmuir, Mrs. Langmuir’s son, emphasized their dedication to preserving the land.
“I think from our standpoint, our expectation was to be as minimally impactful as we can,” he said. “We have lived and existed in that space with that premise. We love and live with the marsh and all the animals that are there. Our expectation is to maintain that.”
Mr. Langmuir said the new location of the structures will have some ground in front “where you can still play a game of Frisbee, but other than that it’s to maintain the marsh.”
The Langmuirs must return with a landscaping plan before any work begins. The commission also voted to send a letter to the board of health urging them to consider a drip system rather than a standard Title 5 system when the Langmuirs apply for a septic tank.