Golf Club Developer Issues New Promises, Old Threats as MVC Closes Hearings

Gazette Senior Writer

The developers who want to build a private luxury golf club on some 270 acres in the last unbroken woodland in Oak Bluffs issued their final promises - and their final threats - to the Martha's Vineyard Commission last night.

"The housing option is not a threat but a fact of life. The golf option is the solution where everyone wins," said Bob Mone, an Island resident and spokesman for Connecticut developer Corey T. Kupersmith.

"I don't need this. I play golf at Farm Neck. I think this is a great project for Oak Bluffs if we go to development, right?" said Ron Mechur, another resident and leading spokesman for Mr. Kupersmith.

The comments came during the fifth and final public hearing on the Down Island Golf Club plan. Held in the cafeteria of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, the hearing attracted about 75 people who struggled to listen to some three hours of testimony through a cranky sound system accompanied by a steady drumbeat of banging from a baseboard heating unit.

The plan is under review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI). Last night the hearing was closed after five sessions and more than 15 hours of testimony. The written record will remain open until Jan. 10.

Mr. Kupersmith has filed an alternate plan to build a 366-unit affordable housing project on the property under Chapter 40B of the Massachusetts general laws. The housing plan is the subject of a court dispute that is expected to test whether the commission has the right to review Chapter 40B applications.

But the plan now before the commission is for a golf course in the heart of the southern woodlands section of town. Mr. Kupersmith wants to build a Rees Jones-designed 18-hole golf course with a full-service clubhouse and dormitory housing for employees. The project includes a proposal for an organic turf management plan and a hefty "community benefit" package with payments to the town in lieu of taxes and sizable monetary gifts to an array of local charities, including the Martha's Vineyard Arena and Island Elderly Housing.

In a surprise offer to sweeten the deal even more, last night two Oak Bluffs selectmen who support the golf club unveiled a plan for the developer to buy a 24-acre landlocked town-owned parcel in the middle of the Kupersmith property for $1.2 million, and then gift some 20 acres of land on the Lagoon Pond end of the property to the town. Two golf holes near the Lagoon would be relocated to the town-owned land.

The plan was proposed by selectmen Todd Rebello and Michael Dutton, who said they had met with the developer to discuss the idea and had received a favorable response. They said the money from the sale of the land would be used for affordable housing.

The details of the plan appeared sketchy; Mr. Dutton admitted that any sale of town property would require both a two-thirds vote on the town meeting floor and also an RFP by the town under public procurement laws.

The two selectmen suggested that the commission write a condition for approval that would require the sale of the town-owned property to Mr. Kupersmith for a minimum of $1.2 million.

One member of the commission questioned the legality of such a move.

"When we start writing conditions that involve third parties we are on especially thin ice," said Linda Sibley. MVC executive director Chuck Clifford agreed with Mrs. Sibley that conditioning a land sale deal between the town and the developer is problematic.

"I think it could be a very difficult condition to write - you are asking the commission to condition a town meeting vote," Mr. Clifford said.

Commission member Michael Donaroma said the offer was too good to drop. "This is a carrot. We need to take a serious look at it," he said.

Mr. Donaroma suggested that the commission consider some kind of two-tiered approval for the project - but in the end the "surprise" proposal from the selectmen was left unresolved.

Public testimony on both sides of the golf club project cut across all walks of Vineyard life.

"All we can do is wish smooth sailing to this group and hope it goes through," said Bob Priestley, a board member for the ice arena, who spoke at length about the benefit to the arena from the gifts of money promised by the developer. The arena has agreed to give the golf club an easement through its property for a service driveway.

"My prejudice is I love golf and I want to equal the playing field between the haves and the have-nots here on the Island. I think with this golf club we have an opportunity to create a new community," said Chilmark resident Peter Simon.

"I've seen the threats they've made and the money they've offered and I hope you look at the picture of environmental changes that are going to be made," said Richard Williams, a third generation Oak Bluffs resident and former member of the town planning board.

"There is no way to speak of the golf course as a preservation of land - it is not a preservation of land, it is a total change, total - and 400 acres of unbroken land is at stake," said Oak Bluffs resident Anne Margetson.

The project has the support of the town trails and byways committee, the finance committee and four of the five selectmen.

The developers have promised to install a sophisticated monitoring system to protect the groundwater. They have promised to mitigate nitrogen impact on the Lagoon Pond by paying for septic system upgrades in homes and commercial properties around the pond. They have offered to lease the old Webb's Camping Area to the town for $1.

Last night the developers added several more items to the pot of promises, including a $10 million pesticide and herbicide damage insurance policy and an offer to make free firewood available to Island residents.

But before the gavel came down on the final session, more than one member of the commission took a shot at the developer for the housing threat.

"The collateral damage from this Chapter 40B proposal has been enormous. I am very angry about it, and it has made life very difficult for those of us who have worked very hard to make affordable housing happen here. I want to give you an opportunity to respond to that," said Marcia Cini.

"I am telling you there was an alternate plan from the beginning," Mr. Mechur said.

"Every business has a fallback position, but they don't wave it around in the air," said commission member Robert Zeltzer.

Mr. Mechur replied: "The economy has changed and right now Corey Kupersmith has $20 million of his family money in this. But this isn't about Corey Kupersmith because he isn't really that involved anymore. This is about a golf club - he needs to get out of this and it's up to us."