A zoning bylaw amendment that aims to allow strictly controlled accessory apartments for use as caregiver and affordable housing has begun to spark debate in Chilmark.

The bylaw comes before voters at their annual town meeting April 27.

The amendment has gone through 18 drafts since last year, with feedback from several town boards and from the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, which will help administer the bylaw if it is adopted. An informational meeting last week saw general support for the amendment and also the first concerted pushback.

The bylaw would allow accessory apartments to be rented in two ways: as affordable housing, or to immediate family members or caregivers.

“The idea is that we want to allow people to stay in their homes to age in place,” said housing committee member Jessica Roddy, who spearheaded the bylaw last year. The Chilmark bylaw is modeled after a similar one in West Tisbury with two key differences: property owners would not need to be town residents, and while the apartments would need to be occupied year round, unlike in West Tisbury, there would be an exception for seasonal caregivers.

At the meeting held last Wednesday in the Chilmark library, town custodian Rodney Bunker spoke out against the proposed bylaw, calling it a “step backwards” for the town and urging a more conservative approach. “You are always going to have the need for housing here. So when do you draw the line?” he said.

He said he supported the concept of aging in place, but questioned the efforts to provide affordable housing, which he feared would lead to a spike in residential development and alter the character of the town. “I don’t agree with trying to solve everyone’s need to live here,” Mr. Bunker said. He also worried about the increased pressure on natural resources and suggested that the new structures be set far back from streams and wetlands.

Other suggestions at the meeting included raising a square footage requirement for the apartments, and also raising the income threshold, which is 80 per cent of the area median income, as determined by the regional housing authority. That would translate to $994 per month in rent for a single-bedroom apartment and $1,205 for two bedrooms. The housing authority would need to approve each candidate and would then follow up after 12 months.

Selectman Bill Rossi was among those who supported a higher threshold. “You can make $100,000 and still not be able to afford to buy something in Chilmark,” he said. But he supported the role of the housing authority, “to make sure it doesn’t become a profit center for somebody.”

Property owners would be allowed to have both a guest house and an accessory apartment. But on properties where a guest house is not allowed, the accessory apartment could not be larger than 400 square feet. Otherwise up to 800 square feet is allowed.

Chilmark currently has a total of 10 subsidized affordable rental units — six on Middle Line Road and four others that are part of a rental assistance program. There are also a handful of market rate rental properties.

While Mr. Bunker worried that the apartments would encourage runaway development, others pointed out that West Tisbury’s bylaw, which was adopted in 1992, has produced only two or three units per year, and that Chilmark has a much smaller population. Of the 47 accessory apartments now in West Tisbury, most are occupied by family members. And many of those structures were already there, Ms. Roddy said. “It wasn’t like a mad convergence of buildings.”

The amendment requires a five-year review of the bylaw itself, which town officials have generally embraced. But Alison Berger recommended that the review period be shortened to a year. “Five years is a long time,” she said.

A second informational meeting is scheduled for Thursday at the town library.