MVC Election Wins Approval

State House Compromise Clears Path for Special Vote in May on a Petition in Oak Bluffs to Secede from Commission

Gazette Senior Writer

After a week of back-room politics on Beacon Hill that left one Cape and Islands legislator openly fuming at what he called "outside muscle," a petition by the town of Oak Bluffs to withdraw from the Martha's Vineyard Commission is now set to come before voters at a special election in the middle of May.

The election will be held on May 13.

"This is a good compromise and it will give ample time for people on both sides of the issue to weigh what's in front of them," said Todd Rebello, chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen. Mr. Rebello said yesterday that the selectmen will shift gears and not move to put the withdrawal question on the annual town election ballot on April 10.

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, selectmen voted to put the question on the annual town ballot even though the legislature had not yet acted on the bill.

"I have polled the rest of the board and we are going to pull that," Mr. Rebello said.

In an executive session held late yesterday afternoon, the Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture approved the home rule petition bill. The bill is expected to be approved in informal session by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Mitt Romney next week.

"By next week this is going to become law, so the community is going to have to come to grips with this," said Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O'Leary. Mr. O'Leary made no secret of his irritation at the events in the State House this week that included heavy pressure on key legislators from a lobbyist hired by Down Island Golf Club developer Corey Kupersmith.

The movement of a small local bill with lightning speed raised a few eyebrows on Beacon Hill, where attention is now focused almost exclusively on Governor Romney's austere budget and massive plan to restructure state government.

"This is only the second bill to come out of the legislature this year, and for a home rule petition at the level of obscurity that this bill has, that is incredible," Mr. O'Leary said. "This has all the earmarks of outside muscle; this is special interest legislation that is being pushed by a developer with deep pockets."

In a blunt statement of protest about the bill yesterday, Sen. Pamela Resor of Worcester and Middlesex, who is co-chairman of the natural resources committee, reserved her right to vote.

At a hearing held on the bill last week in Boston, Ms. Resor underscored the importance of regional planning agencies. "In my district, sometimes communities talk about seceding from the commonwealth when they are unhappy about things. But if every community withdrew from a regional agency every time it was unhappy with some vote that was taken, we would have a real problem," she said.

Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington, who is also a member of the natural resources committee, helped to broker the compromise this week that resulted in the May 13 special election.

The bill dates to last year when a record turnout of voters in Oak Bluffs agreed to take the first step toward withdrawing from the 27-year-old regional planning agency.

The backdrop for the bill is Mr. Kupersmith's controversial Down Island Golf Club development project in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs. The golf club project has been rejected by the commission three times in the last two years as a development of regional impact (DRI).

Last year Mr. Kupersmith had threatened to build a massive Chapter 40B affordable housing project if the golf course project was not approved, and at the time of the town meeting vote many townspeople were angered at the prospect of a ruinous housing project in the southern woodlands.

The political climate changed later when the MVC won a landmark court decision granting the regional planning agency full power of review over 40B housing projects.

A hearing on the bill held in the Oak Bluffs fire station in early September drew a large crowd of Vineyard residents - and most of them spoke out strongly in support of the commission. But the bill never completed its rounds before the legislature adjourned for the year in August, and in January Mr. Turkington filed a new version of the bill.

A second vote by the town in the form of a ballot question is required for the bill to become law; language in the new bill required that the vote take place at an annual town meeting.

With just five weeks left until the annual town meeting, Mr. Kupersmith and his supporters moved to put the bill on a fast track last week in order to make the March 6 deadline for the annual town ballot.

Four of the five Oak Bluffs selectmen, including Mr. Rebello, are open boosters for the golf club project.

Mr. Rebello said yesterday that it is not unusual to see a developer lobby for his own interests. "You would expect any developer to have a lobbyist. I think he [Mr. Kupersmith] has had people working his side of the aisle for a long time," Mr. Rebello said. The chairman of the selectmen said he too had been involved in lobbying for quick passage of the bill.

"I took it upon myself to advocate for the people of Oak Bluffs. I've been very fortunate to have a long history of traveling to the state house with my father, and he left me the legacy of a lot of open doors up there. I was very involved with everything that was going on and I had met with the speaker [House Speaker Thomas Finneran]," Mr. Rebello said.

"Maybe I am just the extreme optimist, but I do believe closure will be brought to this issue in May. I have tried to reach out for compromise in the past and I still believe there is room for compromise between now and May 13. I am still looking for economic development for the town of Oak Bluffs, and the state budget cuts more than ever will force us to look at those options," he said.

He concluded: "Whatever the vote is on May 13, I am going to fully respect the direction given to me by the voters."

By late this week a group of town residents had formed a committee to oppose the ballot question.

Named Keep OB in the MVC, the group includes an array of Oak Bluffs residents, many of them longtime opponents of the golf course project.

It is understood that Mr. Kupersmith is preparing to launch a slick propaganda campaign to push for withdrawal from the commission, a campaign that is expected to include radio and television advertising.

One member of Keep OB in the MVC said this week that the central issue is about more than just a golf course.

"This is a group of people who love Martha's Vineyard more than any place else and has chosen to be here and live here and is incredibly concerned that the Martha's Vineyard Commission is the only tool we have to protect the Vineyard against runaway development," said Kerry Scott, a member of the group.

That's what's driving this and this is a time to start the conversation about what is next for this Island," she said.

Ms. Scott said contributions to Keep OB in the MVC may be sent to P.O. Box 1167, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.