Anxious to regain the upper hand following a defeat in the Massachusetts Land Court last week, the developers who want to convert the southern woodlands in Oak Bluffs to a private luxury golf course - and now also luxury housing - scrambled to put out the word that they have a new deal on the table.
Brian Lafferty, a Bolton housing developer who is a partner with Connecticut developer Corey T. Kupersmith, issued a press release this week about the purported deal. But in fact what is being described optimistically as a deal is little more than a proposal whose bare outlines were sketched after a single meeting early last month between the developers, one Oak Bluffs selectman, the executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank and state environmental officials.
Written in a memorandum by Oak Bluffs selectman Michael Dutton, the proposal envisions a new mixed-use plan for 270 acres in the southern woodlands owned by Mr. Kupersmith, whose plan for a luxury golf course on the property has been rejected twice by the Martha's Vineyard Commission in the last year.
The new proposal calls for an 18-hole luxury golf course, 14 luxury homes, 16 affordable housing units, a state-owned campground and 26 acres of conservation land. The sweetener is the developer's pledge to buy the Windfarm Golf driving range and then sell it to the town and the land bank for use as open space.
Some of the details laid out in Mr. Dutton's memorandum include the following:
* Mr. Kupersmith would build an 18-hole luxury golf course and 14 private homes around it, along with 16 units of affordable housing.
* The developer and the town would negotiate a land swap through which Oak Bluffs would exchange 24 acres of town-owned land known as the "hole in the doughnut" in the golf course for 10 acres owned by Mr. Kupersmith near the Martha's Vineyard Ice Arena and a payment of $800,000. The affordable housing would be located on this land near the ice rink. The proposal also includes a plan to relocate the access road to the ice rink.
* The state Department of Environmental Management would buy 20 acres on Barnes Road at the site of the former Webb's Camping Area for $2 million, and the land bank would buy another 20 acres abutting Featherstone Center for the Arts for $1.76 million. Both properties are owned by Mr. Kupersmith.
* The developer would buy the driving range for $1.1 million and the town would then buy the property from the developer using a $250,000 self-help state grant. The land bank would then pay the town $600,000 for a conservation restriction on and management agreement for the property.
Any new plan would require approval from the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
The proposal was developed following a May 1 meeting in Boston attended by Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington, two spokesmen for Environmental Affairs Secretary Robert Durand, land bank executive director James Lengyel, Mr. Lafferty and Mr. Dutton.
None of the parties involved in the meeting have actually signed on to the plan, and there has been no public discussion about the plan at any meeting among elected officials in Oak Bluffs.
The six people who met to discuss the proposal had reportedly agreed to keep the details of the proposal private until it could be refined and developed more fully. Among other things, the group was expected to ask the Martha's Vineyard Commission to appoint a small subcommittee to meet with the group and discuss the proposal.
The May 1 meeting took place amid the perception that the developers had the upper hand - Mr. Lafferty had filed a massive, 366-unit Chapter 40B affordable housing project for Mr. Kupersmith's property, and the housing project loomed as a real possibility against the backdrop of an ominous case in land court that challenged the right of the commission to review the project. Also, voters in Oak Bluffs had agreed to begin the process of withdrawing from the MVC.
But everything changed last week when the chief justice of the land court ruled that the commission has full power of review over Chapter 40B housing developments. Mr. Lafferty, Mr. Kupersmith, their attorneys and town leaders who are openly aligned with the two developers went into overdrive to try to preserve their bargaining position. Aided by Mr. Lafferty - who has a reputation as a developer who uses aggressive methods - one single session with quiet talk about new ideas for the southern woodlands suddenly morphed into a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
This week, Mr. Lafferty issued to the Martha's Vineyard Times a selective press release announcing that a deal had been struck for the southern woodlands. He also claimed that just before the land court issued its ruling last week, the town and the developers had agreed to end the litigation.
Neither statement was true.
Mr. Lafferty's press release was not sent to the Gazette, nor did he return telephone calls from the Gazette.
Mr. Dutton's memorandum about the proposal is dated May 29, the same day the land court ruled. The memorandum was sent to attendees at the May 1 meeting.
Also this week, attorneys for the developers tried to enlist attorneys for the town and the MVC to ask for some kind of stay in the remaining proceedings in the land court - even though the heart of the case, which centers on MVC jurisdiction - has already been decided. The case is considered a clear win for the town and the commission.
Both attorneys said they had agreed to nothing.
"I have not agreed to a thing," said Oak Bluffs town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport, who represents the town zoning board of appeals in the case. Mr. Rappaport said he will meet with the board of appeals today to discuss the issue.
"I have not agreed to anything," said Eric W. Wodlinger, a partner at Choate, Hall & Stewart who represents the MVC. Mr. Wodlinger confirmed that Mary Ryan, Mr. Kupersmith's attorney, had contacted him about the stay.
Mr. Wodlinger said he had not seen the request because he had been out of the office, but he said the whole notion of asking for a stay appears to be nonsensical.
"I have told the attorney for the developer that if they have a revised proposal which may include different elements, that they are free to bring a new proposal to the commission, and the commission will consider it as a [development of regional impact]. If they think they have come up with a better proposal, they can bring it in, and if the majority of the commission agrees - that's great," he said. "But the commission is not going to agree to something ahead of time.
"And we're not going to kick away a 40B decision that is protection for the whole Island for the next 50 years," he added.
Yesterday Mr. Lengyel confirmed that he attended the May 1 meeting, but said the land bank has not agreed to any land purchase deal.
"All agreements involving the land bank become public record once they have been approved and signed," he said. "If there were any finalized agreements here the land bank would have released them immediately."
Mr. Turkington said emphatically that there is no deal, only a proposal.
"What happened is six people sat in a room and talked about what each one could do to make a more workable plan," he said. "There was one meeting, and what came out of it was a number of ideas, some of which could work, some which might not work.
"The idea was that we would take these ideas to the MVC and they could take it, change it, reject it, do whatever they want to it," Mr. Turkington said. "That is their job."