Before Commission, New Dose of Threats

Developer for Southern Woodlands Claims More Lawsuits Are Coming, Lashes Out at Alleged Conflicts

Gazette Senior Writer

An incomplete plan to build 320 homes in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs was submitted to the Martha's Vineyard Commission last week amid a fresh stream of invective from the former developer of the Down Island Golf Club - who is now threatening to sue the commission on a variety of new fronts.

"I sued you at 3:30 this afternoon; depositions start tomorrow and we are filing a complaint with the Board of Bar Overseers against one of your lawyers," declared Brian Lafferty, a Bolton housing developer who is the chief spokesman for developer Corey Kupersmith.

At the outset of the meeting Mr. Lafferty also accused six commission members of having conflicts of interest, taking particular aim at Richard Toole. "You're a liar," Mr. Lafferty told Mr. Toole at one point, as he also leveled conflict charges at James Athearn, Linda Sibley, John Best, Andrew Woodruff and Tristan Israel.

"He's trying to hijack the meeting," called out one member of the audience as commission member Christina Brown struggled to get the hearing under control. Mrs. Brown is chairman of the land use planning subcommittee and the presiding officer for development of regional impact (DRI) hearings.

The unpleasant exchange unfolded during a public hearing on the massive housing plan on Thursday night in the cafeteria of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. The plan is under review by the commission as a DRI. The applicant is CK Associates, whose principal is Corey Kupersmith, the Connecticut businessman who has tried without success to win approval from the commission for a private luxury golf course on 270 acres he owns in the southern woodlands.

Acting through Mr. Lafferty, Mr. Kupersmith is now pushing the massive housing plan for the same property. Crafted under Chapter 40B, a state law that permits affordable housing projects to skirt most local zoning rules, the plan is not only huge in scale, but is also missing a large amount of information that is required by the commission under its enabling legislation.

Mr. Lafferty, who is also trying to overturn a land court ruling that upholds the right of the commission to review Chapter 40B housing developments, reiterated last week that the incomplete plan is the only thing he plans to submit.

"I have nothing else to say to you and no other information will be forthcoming," Mr. Lafferty said.

The plan calls for a mix of 240 single-family homes and 80 apartment units, serviced by town water and on-site septic systems.

Staff reports show that the plan is deficient in a wide array of areas ranging from pond and groundwater protection to traffic impacts. On Thursday night commission staff touched on the following areas where the plan falls far short of even minimum standards:

* Staff planner and DRI coordinator Jennifer Rand said the plan is at odds with a long list of goals in the Regional Island Plan; also the developer has submitted no landscaping plan and no lighting plan.

* MVC water quality planner William Wilcox said septic discharge from the project will exceed the limits set under the southern woodlands district of critical planning concern; these limits are aimed at protecting both the groundwater and the Lagoon Pond, which is at its limit for nitrogen loading.

* MVC coastal planner JoAnn Taylor said the project either fails to meet the standards or does not provide enough information for evaluation for three of four districts of critical planning concern that affect the property, including the Island Roads District, the Lagoon Pond district and the southern woodlands district.

* MVC traffic planner David Wessling found that the traffic study for the project is flawed in numerous ways. Among other things, Mr. Wessling uncovered glaring inconsistencies between the traffic study for the housing development - planned for off Barnes Road - and a recent traffic study for the town that was used as a basis for the roundabout now planned for the blinker light intersection. The same traffic consultant - MS Transportation Systems - did both studies. Summing up the traffic report for Mr. Wessling, who was away, MVC executive director Mark London said on Thursday night that the commission had tried to contact the traffic consultant to reconcile the conflict between the two studies, but had received no response.

"Taken together, the two documents are nearly impossible to reconcile. Pulling on one pushes the other," Mr. Wessling wrote in his report.

* MVC planner William Veno confirmed that a number of trails and ancient ways that run through the property will be either destroyed or altered by the housing development.

The hearing was sparsely attended but opposition to the plan was unanimous.

"This application is incomplete," said Richard Combra, who is chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen. Mr. Combra said the selectmen had voted unanimously at their meeting earlier in the week to oppose the plan.

"There are good 40B projects and bad ones - this project for the southern woodlands is one of the bad ones," said Oak Bluffs selectman Roger Wey. "The southern woodlands should remain as a natural place," he added.

The testimony from Mr. Wey drew the first of several outbursts from Mr. Lafferty during the meeting. "Why don't you write the check, Roger?" Mr. Lafferty called out.

"The bullies are back in town," Mr. Wey replied, turning to face Mr. Lafferty.

"Everyone talks about keeping the southern woodlands as conservation land, but no one wants to step up and write the damn check," Mr. Lafferty retorted.

"In my experience there are two kinds of developers - the ones who respect the land and the ones who disrespect the land. Mr. Lafferty, you fall in the category of disrespecting the land," said Tom Walsh, an Oak Bluffs resident who said he has been a real estate developer for many years. "It's an environmental nightmare, it's a cultural nightmare, it's a traffic nightmare and it's a fiscal nightmare. The diatribe I heard from Mr. Lafferty tonight is disrespectful and deplorable and you owe the Martha's Vineyard Commission an apology," Mr. Walsh said.

Near the end of the meeting commission member Doug Sederholm called for a show of hands of anyone who supports the project; no hands went up in the room.

A short time later Mr. Lafferty openly mocked Mr. Sederholm. "Anybody out there in favor? Like it makes a difference," he said.

In the end, Mr. Lafferty flatly refused to comply with any requests for more information, and he joined a small chorus of people urging the commission to close the hearing and vote on the project.

"Roger said earlier that the bullies are back in town. Well, it's the truth. I'm the bully. You got sued today. You have no alternative but to close the hearing tonight. It's a charade - we know you're not going to approve this. So let's deny it and let the SJC [supreme judicial court] decide," Mr. Lafferty declared.

Instead, in an undisguised effort to give the developer the benefit of the doubt, commission members agreed to continue the hearing to Sept. 4. The session will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the commission office in Oak Bluffs.