Letter Shows Land Bank Position Misrepresented in Golf Deal Maneuvers
By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer
In a confidential letter sent to the Oak Bluffs selectmen last week, the executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank raised a series of tough questions about the latest deal that was forged behind closed doors between town officials and golf course developer Corey Kupersmith, the Gazette has learned.
In blunt language, land bank executive director James Lengyel questioned the veracity of the deal - and he also made it clear that the land bank has made no commitment, especially when it comes to spending public money to buy the Windfarm driving range owned by Tim Creato.
"On page 18 [in the agreement between town officials and the developer] it refers to a land bank ‘representation' as to the price of Mr. Creato's land. The land bank has made no representations," Mr. Lengyel wrote in part.
Sent to the Oak Bluffs selectmen on July 31 and marked confidential, the letter was obtained by the Gazette yesterday.
Mr. Lengyel also outlined a number of fine-print "contingencies" in the agreement between town officials and the developer, including a contingency that the developer will be allowed to build more houses on his property if the land bank fails to participate in the deal, or if the Windfarm driving range property cannot be purchased at a price of $1.1 million.
"These contingencies were news to the land bank, as they hadn't been raised at or subsequent to the May 1 meeting in Boston when the possibility of land bank involvement was first sketched out," Mr. Lengyel wrote.
The Oak Bluffs selectmen and the developers have now agreed on a new luxury golf and housing plan for 270 acres owned by Mr. Kupersmith in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs. The new plan still needs approval from the Martha's Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI); the commission has rejected two luxury golf course plans for Mr. Kupersmith's property in the last year and a half.
Mr. Kupersmith is appealing the decisions in court. With his partner, Bolton developer Brian Lafferty, Mr. Kupersmith has also threatened to build a massive Chapter 40B affordable housing project on the same property, but the threats lost their bluster two months ago when the Massachusetts land court upheld the right of the commission to review – and reject - Chapter 40B housing projects.
The new plan calls for an 18-hole championship golf course, 14 luxury homes, 16 affordable housing units, a state-owned campground and 26 acres of conservation land. The purported sweetener is the developer's pledge to buy the Windfarm Golf Inc. driving range and then sell it to the town and the land bank for use as open space. The driving range is privately owned by Mr. Creato and is not contiguous to the southern woodlands.
The new plan is being touted by the developers as a settlement agreement. The agreement was referred to the commission this week for review as a DRI, and last night the commission was set to discuss a possible public hearing schedule.
The developers, who want to short-circuit the public process, have tried to get the commission to agree to approve the plan behind closed doors, and so far the commission has resisted, although the pressure has been enormous. In an unorthodox move last week, the commission agreed to meet in executive session with both the developer and the Oak Bluffs selectmen, after getting a green light from its Boston attorney Eric Wodlinger for the closed-door session. The ostensible reason for the executive session was to discuss pending litigation, although it is now clear that in fact the discussion centered on the proposed new plan. Any discussion of a development plan is not a proper subject for executive session under the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law
Four of the five Oak Bluffs selectmen have been closely aligned with the developer for many months, and at times the roles of the developers and the town selectmen have been virtually indistinguishable.
Mr. Lafferty and Mr. Kupersmith have been waging a high-pressure propaganda campaign about the new plan, repeatedly putting out the word that the plan has the stamp of approval from state environmental officials and also the land bank.
The state has earmarked money for the possible purchase of the former Webb's Camping Area, but state officials have said the earmark is not a commitment. "It's only a wish list," said one state official this week.
In the confidential letter to the selectmen last week, Mr. Lengyel set the record straight about the role of his agency. He questioned how many extra houses the developer would be allowed to build under the surprise contingency in the settlement agreement, and he cautioned the selectmen that the land bank should be included in any talks aimed at buying the Windfarm driving range.
"The land bank is interested in being part of the negotiations with Mr. Creato, since land bank monies are to be expended there," Mr. Lengyel wrote.
He also made it clear he had never made any "representations" about the price of the Windfarm property.
"At the May 1 meeting I personally offered ideas, but not definitive statements on behalf of the institution, as to the value of Mr. Creato's land," Mr. Lengyel wrote.