Golf Course Battle Reopens
By JULIA WELLS
This time around, the gloves are coming off. That is the word that's been quietly circulated for the last several months by spokesmen for the Down Island Golf Club, as they prepared a new plan to build a private luxury golf club in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs.
Last week developer Corey Kupersmith appeared to stay true to the word when he unleashed a vehement attack on the Martha's Vineyard Commission, accusing the regional planning agency of bias and bad faith - before the commission had even set a date for the first public hearing on the new golf club plan.
"We have absolutely no confidence that the MVC can fairly or professionally judge our proposal or heed the desires of the local community over their personal biases," Mr. Kupersmith wrote in a letter to the editor of both Island newspapers last week.
This week an Oak Bluffs resident who is a member of Mr. Kupersmith's camp launched an incendiary petition campaign to have the town of Oak Bluffs withdraw from the MVC.
"I do not trust these commissioners and neither should you. . . . I tell you, this kind of espoused bigotry, elitism, classism, arrogance and cultural and social engineering leads into very dangerous territory," declared Theo Nix Jr., former chairman of the town blue ribbon committee. In his petition calling for the town to withdraw from the commission, Mr. Nix wrote: "The Martha's Vineyard Commission is out of control. I am outraged. I will not have my town held hostage." He also wrote:
"Local conservation groups, whose mission it is to protect the environment and educate us on good land use policy, openly tell us in their newsletters that they support or do not support certain Island projects based on their view of the type of person who may use the land."
Mr. Nix said the petition was prompted in part by Mr. Kupersmith's move last week to file a plan to build a massive, 375-unit low and moderate-income housing project in the southern woodlands. The developer has vowed to pursue the housing plan if his golf course plan is not approved.
The Chapter 40B comprehensive permit application was filed with the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals and will be subject to review by the commission as a separate development of regional impact (DRI).
In his petition, Mr. Nix picked up on an inaccurate piece of information also now being circulated by the golf club developers - that the comprehensive permit housing application will not be subject to review by the commission.
"I can tell you that special governments like the MVC have almost no say over affordable housing projects - they cannot stop it," Mr. Nix wrote.
But yesterday MVC executive director Charles W. Clifford said the housing project application will without question require review as a DRI.
"In my mind there is absolutely no question at all," Mr. Clifford said. He said comparisons to the Cape Cod Commission are inaccurate, because the Cape Cod Commission has a special exemption for Chapter 40B project applications, while the Martha's Vineyard Commission does not.
In fact, the commission has reviewed Chapter 40B applications in the past.
"Chapter 40B is a development, and developments [over a certain size] are reviewed by the commission. Period," Mr. Clifford said.
He said the project has not yet been referred to the commission by the town, but that is only because the town board of appeals has not met.
Meanwhile, at the land use planning subcommittee meeting this week, July 5 was set as the date for the first public hearing on the DRI review of the new golf club plan.
The new plan is a revised version of the plan that was rejected by the commission last year in two consecutive votes.
In a presentation two months ago at the MVC land use planning subcommittee, spokesmen for the developers said the new plan answers every concern raised by the commission when it voted to deny the project.
Changes to the plan include a second access for employees and service vehicles through the Martha's Vineyard Arena from the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, expanded land area for the golf club (Mr. Kupersmith now owns some 275 acres), less managed turf, less impact on a Native American archaeological resource area on the property and relocation of the clubhouse away from the neighboring Featherstone Center for the Arts. The golf club developers said they are also planning to lease, at no cost, a portion of the old Webb's Camping Area to the town for use as a family campsite, and they said they intend to open up access to a landlocked parcel of town-owned land in the middle of the golf club property.
The developers have resubmitted much of the technical information that accompanied the last plan. Mr. Kupersmith is a businessman and golfer, formerly from Greenwich, Conn., and now from New Canaan, Conn.
But golf club and housing development plans are not the only activity under discussion for Mr. Kupersmith's land holdings in the southern woodlands.
This week, Martha's Vineyard Land Bank executive director James Lengyel confirmed that the land bank has been involved in talks with Mr. Kupersmith for the possible purchase of his property. "The land bank commission has had negotiations for the last several months with Corey Kupersmith about purchasing his interests in the southern woodlands," Mr. Lengyel said, responding to a question from the Gazette.
Mr. Lengyel said the details of the discussions are not public because of a confidentiality agreement that he said is still active.
The news of talks between the land bank and Mr. Kupersmith is somewhat at odds with a statement made by Mr. Kupersmith in his letter last week.
"Some form of development needs to occur since our best efforts at a conservation purchase through local groups have also been unsuccessful," Mr. Kupersmith wrote.
Mr. Lengyel would not say whether the purchase talks with Mr. Kupersmith are still active, but he did say: "The confidentiality agreement would lapse if negotiations between the parties stopped."
Mr. Lengyel also said the southern woodlands remains on the land bank priority list.
"It is a priority. It's beautiful and it's consolidated and it's in a part of the Island that would benefit from more conservation property," he said.