In April 2013 an overflow crowd packed the Chilmark annual town meeting to cast a historic vote on what by then had been dubbed the big-house bylaw, a zoning bylaw aimed at regulating a perceived growing trend of super-sized homes in this town of rolling sheep meadows, stone walls and gray shingled farmhouses.

A year and a half in the making, and sparked partly by the construction of a massive single-family home overlooking Nashaquitsa Pond, the controversial bylaw had been the subject of heated debate for months on end — much of it over how best to preserve the rural character of Chilmark.

At town meeting that year the bylaw, the first of its kind on Martha’s Vineyard, was overwhelmingly approved.

“Tonight should be a celebration of the courage [of the planning board] for trying to get their arms around this elephant,” said voter Steve Bernier at the meeting. “We can come back and improve on this . . . but tonight we should rally together and let go of our individualism and think about this community that we love.”

Others called it draconian.

“I believe some of the criteria we are supposed to follow is much too radical and I think it’s going to be a real problem for us at the zoning board,” said Frank LoRusso, who at the time was chairman of the zoning board of appeals.

Eight years later, the Chilmark big-house bylaw is hardly talked about. And despite widespread fears and concerns about unintended consequences such as burdens on the zoning board and impacts on property values, few negative impacts have been reported.

Mandatory biennial evaluation reports submitted to the annual town meeting by the planning and zoning boards appear show that the bylaw has in fact had the intended effect of keeping house size in check.

In 2015, the two boards found that since the enactment of the law there had been a reduction of over 40 per cent in the average size of new residences, while the number of new residences and additions/guest houses was down 10 per cent. An analysis of residential building permits issued in 2011-2012 (without the bylaw), and 2013-2014 (with the bylaw), showed that total square footage and average residential house size were both down. In 2011-2012, new residences and guest houses totaled 99,000 square feet, or 49,500 square feet per year. By comparison, in 2013-2014, new residences and guest houses totaled 53,000 square feet, or 26,500 square feet per year. The average size of a new residence was 4,360 square feet in 2011-2012, while in 2013-2014 the number dropped to 2,570 square feet.

The 2015 report also noted that Islandwide the number of new residential building permits had remained relatively constant.

“Taken together, the above data would suggest that the new bylaw — and not, say economic factors — has impacted the trends . . . . in Chilmark,” the report said in part.

A report prepared for the 2018 town meeting concluded: “Both the ZBA and planning board agree that residential building size regulation bylaw appears to be working.”

The 2021 report was not disseminated in 2020 and will be presented to the 2022 annual town meeting.

In broad terms, the bylaw establishes a maximum allowable house size relative to land area; for example, on a three-acre lot the maximum allowable size is 3,500 square feet. Homeowners who want to exceed the threshold can apply to the zoning board of appeals for a special permit, which uses a 13-point set of criteria to evaluate the request. Size restrictions also apply to guest houses and accessory dwellings.

Planning board chairman Janet Wiedner, who was at the forefront of the nearly two-year effort to develop the bylaw, said this week that the special permit process was one point of concern.

“I think we were concerned about a few things,” she told the Gazette by phone. “One was whether it would become an onerous process . . . you could apply for a special permit but were we were putting a big load on the zoning board of appeals? The other thing was, was it going to substantially change the [number of building] permits per year.”

To date, neither concern has turned out to be a problem. Since 2013, the number of building permits issued each year has stayed steady. And according to the most recent report, since 2013 the zoning board of appeals has issued an average of three special permits per year as exceptions to the bylaw.

“It really has not been that bad . . . it doesn’t appear we have overly burdened them,” Ms. Wiedner said.

“I think it has worked out really well,” she concluded, adding: “We had a lot of healthy discussion . . . Does it mean no one is going to want to come here? They do of course want to come to this town, and every [Island] town . . . we want to keep the charm, we want to keep the feel of Chilmark.”

Longtime Chilmark building inspector Leonard Jason Jr. said he believes the bylaw was never needed in the first place.

“The bylaw was an overreaction,” Mr. Jason said. “There was one thing in particular that got everybody worked up,” he said, referring to the Quitsa Pond house. He continued: “All you really have to do is look at the houses that have been built over time . . . we never had big houses in Chilmark.”

But despite the sharp critique, Mr. Jason, who is also a longtime assessor, said he believes the bylaw has not affected property values.

“The values really are in the land,” he said.

Corrected from an earlier version which reported that the maximum allowable size for a house on three acres is 6,000 square feet. That number is what would be allowed with a special permit.