More land, less impact on the ponds and a pledge to be better neighbors this time around - those were the promises made to the Martha's Vineyard Commission last night from developers who want to build an 18-hole private, luxury golf club in the last unbroken stretch of woodlands in the town of Oak Bluffs.
"We want to bridge the gap between the old plan that was denied and the new plan presented tonight," said Robert Mone, a Vineyard resident who is a spokesman for the Down Island Golf Club. "This is an environmentally sensitive plan and a community-spirited plan," he said.
The comments came during a public hearing at the commission last night on the golf club plan. Held in the cafeteria of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, it was the first active public hearing since the commission opened a review of the new golf club plan in July. The hearing was continued while the commission waited for rulings from the state ethics commission on a variety of conflict of interest charges raised by the developers at five members of the commission.
All five members were cleared, and last night 19 members of the 21-member commission were present.
The project is under review as a development of regional impact (DRI).
This is the second golf club plan for the same site in 15 months. The first plan was rejected by the commission in July of 2000, and is the subject of an appeal in superior court.
The first review of the golf club plan was marked by considerable tension between the developers and the commission, as public opinion against the project ran high and the developers buried the commission staff in thousands of pages of technical documents.
The hearing last night was marked by a noticeably different tone, possibly because the hearings are organized differently this time. Each public hearing has a clear agenda and a clear format for testimony.
At the outset, Mr. Mone and spokesmen Ron Mechur and Herb Putnam gave the overview, describing the new plan to build a 300-member, 18-hole private club on some 273 acres in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs. The project is located off Barnes Road and includes the site of the former Webb's Camping Area. The developer and owner of the property is Corey Kupersmith, a Connecticut businessman. Mr. Kupersmith, who has made some unpleasant public statements in recent months about the commission, was not present.
The project now includes more land and the golf course has been repositioned in an attempt to have less impact on the Lagoon Pond. The new version of the plan includes a proposal to lease the old camp ground to the town for a dollar, and the developers also plan to give a right of way to the town for a piece of town-owned land that lies in the middle of the Kupersmith property and has no access.
The property is affected by four districts of critical planning concern (DCPCs). It also lies in the watershed of the Lagoon and Sengekontacket ponds.
Water quality was the central topic for discussion, and nitrogen loading in the two saltwater ponds is a key issue.
The project will include 68 to 74 acres of managed turf; the developers are promising an all-organic turf management plan.
Charles Natale, a consultant with Environmental Science Services in Wellesley who has worked on the project from the beginning, described the calculations for nitrogen loading in the ponds. Some nitrogen impact is expected, but he said a private septic system upgrade project planned in a number of key locations is expected to reduce the overall impact in the pond.
Commission water quality staff planner William Wilcox had developed a more conservative set of numbers that showed slightly higher nitrogen loading for the ponds, but Mr. Wilcox said the septic system upgrade plan is a sound concept.
He said the Lagoon Pond is of particular concern because it is at its limit for nitrogen loading. Water quality problems have been documented by the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group at its shellfish hatchery on the lagoon, he said. Shellfish constables from Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury all urged the commission to pay special attention to protecting the salt water ponds.
Mr. Wilcox said the key to managing the impact is to pinpoint the location of the groundwater divide as accurately as possible. He has asked the developers to do more work on this.
Mr. Mone described a plan by the developers to buy a $10 million environmental repair insurance policy. "Where did $10 million come from?" asked Richard Taylor, a nonvoting member of the commission appointed by the governor. "I guess it came out of thin air," Mr. Mone replied. Mr. Taylor told Mr. Mone to come back to the commission with more detailed information about the plan.
Commission member Kate Warner asked for more information about how much electricity the project will use. "With all this water you are pumping, there may be a huge demand on our limited electrical supply," she said.
There was one awkward moment when Owen Larkin, a developer who is building a golf club in Edgartown, stood to speak. Mr. Larkin appeared to be mounting some kind of verbal attack on Mr. Mechur, but commission member Richard Toole who was chairing the hearing, cut him off.
Chilmark resident and golfer Richard Lochridge spoke in favor of the plan and praised the commission.
"I think this process has been great. It has made the proposal better and it is a great example of our local government doing its job the right way," he said
The hearing will be continued on Nov. 1.