Martha Versus The Mega-Mansions

    We live on an island. A long one, if you take into account the entire landmass from the Brooklyn Promenade all the way east past Money Pond in Montauk. The North and South Forks, surrounded nearly entirely by water, can be thought of as islands of a sort, too, connected as they are to the mainland west of Riverhead by the narrowest of threads. East Hampton has always had an exceptionalist, island mentality.
     In this, we have a lot in common with Martha’s Vineyard, an island seven miles off the New England coast that shares our insular nature as well as our fate as a destination for wealthy summer visitors. When it comes to development, the embrace of the sea and bays limits what we can do, and where. There really isn’t much room here for sprawl; what our neighbors make of their property really matters in most cases.
     As we read in the Vineyard Gazette earlier this month, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission may soon regulate the construction of what they call mega-mansions up thataway. These groaning piles — testaments to vanity, excess, and greed — have disturbed many Vineyard residents and are considered a drain on resources. The commission is responsible for land-use planning in all of the island’s six towns, and could soon begin to have jurisdiction over giant houses through its review of “developments of regional impact,” or DRIs. A debate is under way on the island now, about whether to add mega-mansions to the list of developments that come under the DRI purview.
     According to the commission, examples of DRIs include projects that could increase nitrogen pollution in coastal ponds or seriously worsen traffic, as well as those that will have a notable impact on the Vineyard’s scenery as viewed from highly traveled roads or bodies of water. “Out-of-scale trophy houses,” as the Gazette argued recently, are in desperate need of additional regulation. One member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission said that the most frequent complaints she hears are about large houses that do not fit in with the landscape or with island traditions, what she said are the very things that draw visitors and new residents in the first place.
     Predictably, opposition has been strong to the possibility of regional regulation of giant vacation houses. One island architect, for example, begged the commission not to get involved in matters of aesthetics.
     We can only imagine the howls that would ring out if a similar effort were undertaken here on the East End. A decision on Martha’s Vineyard is expected in the spring. We’ll be watching with fascination.