Representatives for the Vineyard Golf Club appeared before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last Thursday for a public hearing on their proposal to build nine luxury houses for club members plus a new employee dormitory and bathroom on the course.
The members-only golf club needs permission from the commission, which approved plans for the golf course along the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road in 1999 with a condition that explicitly prohibited member housing. The only housing allowed by the commission was for club employees.
Golf course spokesmen last Thursday argued for a modification of the condition that previously prohibited member housing. Project engineer Dick Barbini said the club had planned member housing nine years ago but withdrew their plans at the eleventh hour in favor of employee housing.
Mr. Barbini said people felt the golf course “came out better than advertised,” and he said the club was justified in asking for the modification based on its positive reputation. He said the new housing would add approximately $70,000 in taxes to the town coffers each year while putting little strain on town services.
Mr. Barbini said most residents of the new homes — which would be limited to four bedrooms and 5,000 square feet — would be affluent seasonal residents who visit only a few weeks a year and would not have kids entering the school system. The houses would be owned by members but the land would be owned by the golf club and kept on a long-term lease, he said.
Mr. Barbini said the new homes would generate revenue for the golf club and attract new members. The club is about a dozen members short of 300, the maximum number of full-time members established in 1999, he said.
But several people who attended the hearing, as well as a few commissioners, disputed Mr. Barbini’s claims it was the golf club’s decision to change from member housing to employee housing late in the application process nine years ago.
John Best, a Tisbury resident and former commissioner, said he recalled weighing the merits of a golf course versus housing when he was on the commission nine years ago. He said a previous plan for a huge housing subdivision on the property played a pivotal role in the commission’s decision to approve the golf course.
Mr. Best urged the commission to honor its former decision and reject the member housing proposal.
“There was a time very recently when this board was very concerned about the proliferation of trophy homes on Martha’s Vineyard . . . normally there is not legally anything that can be done to stop these type of large-scale projects, but in this case you would not be infringing on anyone’s rights because you would only be honoring your previous [decision],” he said, adding:
“This raises the question: is this what you want the Vineyard to be? Is this what we are to become? [The commission] has the authority to address those questions in a very real way.”
Some commissioners also offered early opinions on the member housing proposal. Chris Murphy, an at-large member from Chilmark, said representatives for the project were offering little to entice the commission to reverse its previous decision.
“I don’t know how you can ask us to turn over what was a hard-fought decision. Is this supposed to tip the scales and make us change our minds? Is this really the best you guys can come up with?” he said.
Mr. Barbini argued that the member housing would have a positive impact. He said the applicant has offered one buildable off-site lot to the Edgartown affordable housing committee, and he said the new 11-bedroom dormitory would address the pressing need for employee housing.
He also said the new housing would create new seasonal and year-round jobs.
“We feel this is a reasonable and positive proposal,” Mr. Barbini said. “We have sweetened the offer the best we feel we can.”
After about two hours of testimony, the commission closed the public hearing while keeping the written record open. The commission is expected to begin deliberations at a future meeting, likely sometime next month.