Chilmark residents interested in owning a home may find the going a little easier since voters at a special town meeting Monday night approved a significant rewriting of zoning bylaws to create new homesites in the years ahead.
The special town meeting at the Chilmark Community Center drew 174 voters.
Town moderator Everett H. Poole pounded his gavel and began the 21-article warrant. And while voters approved most of the articles, it was article nine - to establish new homesites in town - that spurred nearly an hour of discussion.
The article called for allowing a property owner to designate part of his or her property as housing for another person. The original parcel must not be reduced below three acres, and the secondary parcel must be at least one acre.
Another significant requirement is that the friend or relative must be an eligible candidate under the town's homesite housing guidelines.
Voters were concerned whether a wealthy property owner might seize the opportunity and cut land off for a relative. Molly Fender, chairman of the housing committee and member of the community preservation committee, assured voters that a lot of effort was going into the guidelines. She said that in the months ahead her committee will hold a public hearing to fine-tune the guidelines.
She also said that the sale of lots would not be profitable for the property owner.
One voter asked whether this rewrite of the bylaw would change the roadside vistas - whether house sites would appear along the town's familiar and scenic roads
No, replied planning board member Edward Kenyon. "We have a roadside district which sets specific setbacks." Mr. Kenyon also said that conditions imposed by the bylaw would make speculative purchases unattractive.
Josh Scott spoke strongly in favor of the article. He told the voters that Chilmark now has an opportunity to preserve the diversity of people in town. He said the article would open the opportunity for people who work in town to stay in town. His comments drew applause.
Voters moved through most of the housekeeping articles with little discussion. They approved the borrowing and purchase of the homestead of Hollis Burton Engley, a $200,000 purchase of three acres. The article was necessary for the town to join in partnership with the acquisition by the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank of nine acres of property off Middle Road. At the recommendation of selectmen, the second article involving spending an additional $200,000 in renovations to the old 1720 house was postponed indefinitely.
Selectman Warren Doty told voters that the town fathers would spend the winter working out a specific plan for the old building and bring it back with more specific numbers at the annual meeting next spring. Mr. Doty said that they already had a contractor look at the house and make a series of projections on cost. He said more time is needed to formulate a spending plan on the old house.
Voters turned down a selectmen's initiative to make the treasurer's position appointed instead of elected. Selectman Alex Preston told the voters that he favored the cost-saving aspect of merging the position of treasurer and collector. He said he preferred to have the treasurer accountable to the board of selectmen rather than to the voters.
In light of Chilmark's $4 million annual budget, he added, the board wants to have highly qualified candidates for the position and to be able to consider people across the Island. Because elected officials must live in town, Mr. Preston said, "It limits the pool of candidates."
Hela Buchthal drew applause when she spoke in opposition to the change. She said the key element was about trust and she said that the residents could make an appropriate decision. Mrs. Buchthal reminded the voters that earlier in the town meeting the voters had given high praise to outgoing treasurer Judy Jardin, who is retiring at the end of the year.
Mrs. Jardin said her office offers an independent financial voice and that there are plenty of opportunities for a new person to take accounting courses. "I think you'll do a better job with an elected treasurer," she said.
Stan Mercier said it is difficult to remove a person who is appointed to a position. "Elections are the way to go," he said. The voters agreed.
Voters approved spending $31,000 for dredging Menemsha harbor, upgrading computers in the town hall and the purchase of a truck-mounted sander for $6,000.
They also approved transferring $20,000 from available funds to cover the cost of emergency repairs done at the new Chilmark School. Because of serious drainage problems, the school needed a new floor in one of the classrooms as well as new drainage.
Answering a query about why it cost so much to repair a new school, Mr. Doty said the work needed to be done and the board of selectmen had agreed that it was not worthwhile taking legal action against the architect for the errors. He said the town had encountered enough problems in the past with the architect and builder.