Battles lines were drawn last night when a Bolton developer who wants to build a massive housing project in the Southern Woodlands gave the Martha's Vineyard Commission its first glimpse of the project.
In fact a glimpse was all that was available, as developer Brian Lafferty unveiled only the barest outlines of his plan to build 320 homes on 288 acres in Oak Bluffs.
"Hopefully I will get some feedback tonight from the Martha's Vineyard Commission about what you want to see," Mr. Lafferty said during a meeting of the commission land use planning subcommittee.
The feedback was unambiguous.
"As I am sure you know, the Martha's Vineyard Commission is interested in seeing plans that preserve open land, and looking at this plan, I don't see any open land at all," said commission member Richard Toole.
"If your theme is affordable housing, let's see a proposal that really has to do with affordable housing," said commission member Kate Warner.
"I'd like you to come back with 90 units and a cluster plan - and I'm the easy-going one here," said commission member Michael Donaroma.
Called The Homes At Southern Woodlands, the project is under review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI).
Mr. Lafferty said he has scaled back the project from 366 to 320 units, a mix of market rate and affordable houses.
Mr. Lafferty is partners with Corey Kupersmith, a Connecticut developer who has tried without success to win approval from the commission for a luxury golf club project on the same property.
The chapter 40B affordable housing project was filed in concert with the golf club project last year. Mr. Lafferty and Mr. Kupersmith later went to court to challenge the right of the MVC to review chapter 40B housing projects.
The developers lost the case. In a ground-breaking decision two months ago, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Land Court ruled that the commission has full power of review over chapter 40B housing projects.
The court victory was a clear undercurrent last night as Mr. Lafferty jousted lightly with the commission.
"The initial submittal in a 40B application is more general in nature," he said at one point.
"This process here isn't a 40B process, it's an 831 process. You are before us under chapter 831 - not 40B. Our reviews are more than conceptual," said commission member Linda Sibley.
"Yes," Mr. Lafferty replied after a moment of silence.
Christina Brown echoed Mrs. Sibley after Mr. Lafferty supplied vague answers to a series of questions about the plan.
"This isn't a 40B review, it's an 831 review. I am sure you have read 831 and understand many of the issues the Martha's Vineyard Commission is concerned about. . . . I would suggest that before you come to the public hearing, you consider alternative arrangements," Mrs. Brown said.
No public hearing date has been set yet for the project. Commission staff planner and DRI coordinator Jennifer Rand said the application includes numerous illegible pages as well as information that is out of date.
Traffic studies, environmental impact studies and financial impact studies are all incomplete. The plan as it is now written exceeds the minimum zoning requirements and would require waivers to a long list of town bylaws and zoning regulations, from development rates to districts of critical planning concern. Zoning is three acres in the southern woodlands, but on that point Mr. Lafferty inserted a gentle threat.
"There is some question about whether there was a defect in the way that zoning article took effect," he said.
He repeatedly rejected suggestions that he consider a cluster plan.
"I don't like cluster plans. I want to maximize the availability of private homeowner area," he said.
In the end commission member James Athearn issued a blunt summary. "I think it's obvious that this is not a serious plan and that nothing of this scale could ever be accepted except for negotiating purposes," he said.
Mr. Lafferty disagreed.
"This is one hundred per cent realistic and I fully intend to pursue this plan as presented," he said.