By Unanimous Vote, Rejection

A Key Subcommittee Turns Down Southern Woodlands Plan, Citing Detriments That Outweigh Benefits

Gazette Senior Writer

Capping months of scrappy combat with the former developers of the Down Island Golf Club, a key subcommittee of the Martha's Vineyard Commission voted without dissent this week to recommend that a massive housing project in the southern woodlands be denied.

The commission land use planning committee voted 9-0 Wednesday night to recommend thumbs down on the CK Associates housing project, a plan to build 320 houses on 270 acres, the last unbroken stretch of oak and pine forest in Oak Bluffs.

"A new community of 320 units in a suburban setting," said James Athearn, commission chairman, "this would permeate the culture of Martha's Vineyard with its traffic and other impacts. Subdivisions like this are degrading our character . . . it is a struggle to maintain the culture of Martha's Vineyard in the face of this kind of development."

Commission member Linda Sibley concurred. "Nothing on the Island - even places with cookie-cutter housing - is anywhere near this magnitude. This plan reminds me of that cartoon in The New Yorker where the person coming home can't find where he lives."

The authors of the housing plan are Connecticut developer Corey Kupersmith and his partner Brian Lafferty. The plan has been under review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI). A public hearing on the project closed last month.

Mr. Kupersmith failed three times in the last three years to win approval for a luxury golf course on the same property. Acting through his spokesman, Mr. Lafferty - a Bolton housing developer who now lives in Concord - Mr. Kupersmith has made the commission his battleground in recent months.

Throughout a series of public hearings and other meetings during the summer and early fall, Mr. Lafferty has been combative and uncooperative - among other things accusing Mrs. Sibley of bias and bigotry.

Two weeks ago the full commission countered Mr. Lafferty's attacks by taking what amounted to a unanimous vote of confidence in Mrs. Sibley.

On Wednesday night, the land use planning committee spent more than two hours evaluating the benefits and detriments of the housing project, moving methodically through a long list of criteria set out under the commission's enabling legislation.

Crafted under Chapter 40B, a state law that permits affordable housing projects to skirt most local zoning rules, the plan calls for a mix of 240 single-family homes and 80 apartment units. Some of the houses and all of the apartments are planned for people with low and moderate incomes.

The commission has the power to review Chapter 40B housing projects.

The plan was accompanied by a long list of sketchy details, including lighting, landscaping, traffic impacts and wastewater discharge.

As the land use committee evaluation got underway on Wednesday night, the list of detriments went on and on - clear-cutting the last forest in Oak Bluffs, enough houses to swamp the local schools, loss of scenic values, negative impacts on ground water and surface water from 320 septic systems.

"The plan allows for the possibility that the area could essentially be clear -cut," said Mrs. Sibley. "Under the most conservative scenario they are clearing a great deal of the property and fragmenting the rest. I just want to make sure we don't lose - excuse the analogy - the forest for the trees."

"This will change a rural forest into a distinct suburban area that is not in keeping with its surroundings," concluded commission member Paul Strauss.

Even the prospect of more affordable housing for the Vineyard dimmed against a backdrop of other negatives.

"Three quarters of this project, which is market rate, is going to create a need for more moderate income people - you will need more shopkeepers and people to pump gas. It's one step forward and at least a partial step back," Mrs. Sibley said.

"The housing is the major benefit of the project," reflected Mark London, commission executive director.

"It's the only benefit," said commission member Robert Schwartz.

"I don't see anything there that is even remotely in line with where the housing advocates of the Island are moving toward," said commission member Andrew Woodruff.

In the end the subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend that the full commission deny the housing project when it meets on Oct. 16.

When it was all over Mr. Lafferty, who attended the meeting and maintained a comparatively low profile, had one thing to say: "I'm shocked," he called out, exiting the meeting room.