An Oak Bluffs selectman was rebuffed last week when he urged the Martha's Vineyard Commission to reverse its decision to go to court to compel a regional review of Connecticut developer Corey Kupersmith's affordable housing project.
The commission voted 10-1 to reject the motion by Kenneth Rusczyk to reconsider last month's decision to join the town of Oak Bluffs as a friend of the court.
Mr. Rusczyk is an Oak Bluffs selectman and a member of the MVC.
Mr. Kupersmith's attorneys filed a complaint against the town in Massachusetts Land Court last month, claiming automatic approval on a Chapter 40B housing application because the town zoning board of appeals had not acted on the application within the required statutory time frame.
The plan calls for building a 366-unit low and moderate-income housing project on the 275-acre property owned by Mr. Kupersmith in the southern woodlands.
The commission decided to go into court to protect its right to review the housing project as a development of regional impact (DRI).
At the regular commission meeting last Thursday night, Mr. Rusczyk said he agreed with a letter sent by the Edgartown selectmen to the commission two weeks ago. The letter questioned the expenditure of legal fees and the timing of the MVC decision to join the lawsuit, although the selectmen also said they support the commission's right to review the affordable housing plan.
"I believe my Edgartown selectmen brethren have a kernel here, and I believe that this august board should stand back a little bit," Mr. Rusczyk said.
None of his colleagues agreed.
"At some point this issue is going to arise again, and I believe it is not a bad thing to go in there and ask for an opinion from the court about whether the commission has jurisdiction on Chapter 40B applications," said commission member Daniel Flynn.
"I agree very strongly with Dan," said commission member Robert Zeltzer. "This commission may be the only thing that stands between a development that could be very detrimental to the region and certainly to the town. We are the only body between the towns and 40B and we should stand up and be counted."
Responding more directly to the letter from the Edgartown selectmen, Mr. Zeltzer said: "If this Chapter 40B project was being proposed for the Herring Creek Farm, they might feel very differently."
Mr. Kupersmith has a separate development application pending in front of the commission to build a luxury golf club on the same property.
There has been some speculation that the massive affordable housing project was filed as a tactic to win approval of the golf club, but Mr. Zeltzer said last week that the housing project should be taken seriously, especially in light of the economic downturn.
"I am a little confused by the actions of the applicant. I am told on the one hand that the intention of the applicant is to build a golf club, not affordable housing, but I also understand that all of the investors [in the golf club project] had their money refunded at the end of June. This housing project may not be a club over our heads but may in fact be a very serious development effort in the town," Mr. Zeltzer said.
Commission member Jennie Greene said it is too late for the commission to pull out of the case since a motion to intervene has already been filed. Noting the concerns of the Edgartown selectmen about legal fees, Ms. Greene said coming into a case as a friend of the court may in fact be a low-cost way to test the rights of the commission to review Chapter 40B projects.
"I believe that this is a very inexpensive way to test this," Ms. Greene said.
"This isn't just a southern woodlands issue - this is a regional issue for the body," concluded Mr. Flynn.
In the end, Mr. Rusczyk cast the sole vote in favor of his motion, and the commission will now stay in the case as a friend of the town.
Later in the same meeting, Mr. Rusczyk also came under close questioning by another member of the commission about his own role in a recent petition campaign for the town of Oak Bluffs to withdraw from the MVC. The petition campaign has been led by a group of supporters for Mr. Kupersmith's golf club.
"This is not a question meant to provoke, but I would like to ask Mr. Rusczyk if he could explain his efforts to gain support for this petition," said commission member Andrew Woodruff.
Appearing slightly flustered, Mr. Rusczyk said he has not signed the petition.
But Mr. Woodruff pressed Mr. Rusczyk for an answer, noting that he has been seen sitting at a table in a public place in town with the people who are circulating the petition to have the town withdraw from the MVC.
Mr. Rusczyk refused to state his own position on the withdrawal petition, saying only that he believes the commission should not be above scrutiny.
"I think the Martha's Vineyard Commission in our town should be constantly under scrutiny, and because our town spends money to support the commission I think any of its actions should be up for review. But I have not made any statements about whether I am in favor of withdrawal or not," Mr. Rusczyk said.