Developer Vows Total Clearing of Woodlands; MVC Votes for Review

Gazette Senior Writer

The developer of the Down Island Golf Club went toe to toe with the Martha's Vineyard Commission one more time last night, publicly declaring his intention to clear-cut 270 acres in the southern woodlands and openly challenging the commission to try and stop him.

"I'm about to show that the Martha's Vineyard Commission has no teeth," said Brian Lafferty, the former Bolton housing developer who is the spokesman for property owner Corey Kupersmith.

"When we are done the property will be returned to its 1938 post-hurricane condition when there wasn't a single tree on the site. We've decided that is the goal we have in mind," he said.

The commission responded by voting without dissent to declare the latest activity in the southern woodlands a development of regional impact (DRI). Mr. Kupersmith will now be expected to file a plan for the new uses on his property, although Mr. Lafferty made it clear that he has no intention of doing so.

"You're never going to have a plan," he told the commission.

He also announced that Mr. Kupersmith will shortly file a complaint in federal district court charging conspiracy against two members of the commission - although he did not name the members - and he threatened to run up the legal bills against the MVC.

"Mr. Kupersmith has budgeted $1.5 million for legal bills for the coming year, and I suspect that the Martha's Vineyard Commission is going to have to fight us dollar for dollar," said Mr. Lafferty, whose threats and confrontational style are now well known.

He said Mr. Kupersmith plans to build a piggery alongside the Featherstone Center for the Arts, and he said he also plans to build a rifle range on his property once it is cleared.

"This is all for his personal use," Mr. Lafferty said.

The statements by Mr. Lafferty came midway through a public hearing at the commission last night, and they brought immediate clarity to a meeting that was marked by some confusion over procedure. There was also a theatrical call by one Oak Bluffs selectman for a summit meeting to negotiate a new plan for the Kupersmith property.

"I am proposing that we hold a workshop and let everyone come and bare their soul. We all need to come to the middle," said selectman Todd Rebello. Commission member Andrew Woodruff called on Mr. Rebello to show some leadership. "The right group to take the lead in resolving this issue is the board of selectmen," he said.

Mr. Kupersmith has tried three times without success to win approval from the commission for a luxury golf course on his property, and recently the commission also rejected a massive housing project. He is now suing the commission on a variety of fronts.

Last night Mr. Rebello's call for a summit meeting fell flat as Mr. Lafferty showed his muscle.

"This is Mr. Kupersmith's back yard, it just happens to be a lot bigger than most back yards. But if he wants to paint his house blue he can because it's his property," Mr. Lafferty said.

"Mr. Lafferty has made a very eloquent defense of personal property rights this evening. . . . But when your back yard is 270 acres and you are proposing removing all the trees and that can affect the watershed and habitats and will affect the Lagoon and Sengekontacket Ponds - then it's not a matter of painting your house blue, it''s a matter of in real life affecting a huge piece of property and resources and the Island as a whole," said Doug Sederholm, a member of the commission who led the move to declare the activity a DRI.

In separate votes the commission voted 9-0 with one abstention and then 10-0 that the activity on the Kupersmith property is a DRI on two counts: because clear cutting would have a regional impact and because the property was previously the subject of a DRI.

The latest flap between the commission and Mr. Kupersmith began a few weeks ago when the developer launched a tree-cutting project on his land. Some cutting was done in a section of pitch pines in the woodlands, and also clearing was done along Barnes Road. Then a six-acre swath abutting Featherstone was clear-cut.

Mr. Lafferty wrote a letter to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife reporting that Mr. Kupersmith planned to begin cutting trees to harvest wood for his personal use, and that he intended to convert the property to agricultural use.

A state official responded that the property is considered a sensitive area and harbors three state listed species, including the threatened imperial moth.

Two weeks ago the Oak Bluffs selectmen and also the Dukes County Commission referred the tree cutting project to the commission as a DRI.

Both referrals were discretionary, a special process under commission rules that permits projects that may not fall under the conventional criteria to be referred to the commission for possible review.

A hearing was required to determine whether the project qualified as a DRI.

At the outset last night Oak Bluffs selectman and board chairman Richard Combra said he supported the referral to the commission, but that he doubted the tree-cutting qualified as a DRI.

Later in the meeting Mr. Sederholm returned to Mr. Combra.

"My understanding of what Mr. Lafferty is saying is that because it's his private property he can destroy it, and then when he comes back in front of us, there is nothing left to protect because he has destroyed it. Is that your understanding of it also?" Mr. Sederholm said.

"I guess one could perceive that," Mr. Combra replied.