The Edgartown zoning board of appeals this week gave tentative approval to plans for an upscale members-only recreational facility in Katama called the Field Club - although the board stopped short of putting the plan to a vote.
After two hours of testimony from project proponents, including principal investor Gerrett D. Conover and civil engineer Dick Barbini, the board unanimously agreed on an unprecedented approach, asking representatives of the project to draft a preliminary motion of approval.
About a dozen residents attended the Wednesday night meeting, although the hearing was closed to public comment.
Chairman Martin V. (Skip) Tomassian Jr. said he couldn't recall an instance when the board allowed an applicant to draft language for a motion. But considering the number of issues that came up during the hearing - including concerns from neighbors during an emotional session back in November - Mr. Tomassian said allowing the applicant to draft the language might be the best course of action.
The motion is at least intended to serve as a starting point for the board to review and make sure all issues have been addressed. The board will then decide if the motion should be revised, expanded or rejected before putting it to a vote, Mr. Tomassian said.
"Take the time to think it through and make sure you hit on everything that came up during this process," Mr. Tomassian told the representatives of the project. "If something isn't going to work out, you need to explain why and what can be done instead."
Sean Murphy, an attorney for the developers, said he would address all the issues raised during the application process and would have a draft motion ready within a few days. The zoning board is scheduled to meet Monday at 5 p.m. at town hall to review the motion - and possibly vote on it.
Absent a formal vote, it was unclear whether all five board members approved the application, but the limited feedback on the project was mostly positive. Board member Carol Grant said she felt representatives for the project presented a complete application. "It seems like they did their homework," she said.
Mr. Tomassian said the decision to allow the applicant to draft the motion did not constitute approval, but suggested he would vote in favor if all the issues were addressed. "If I didn't think you had a shot I wouldn't ask you to do this," he said.
The Field Club will be built in the center of a 25-lot subdivision owned by a group of Edgartown businessmen, including Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma.
The Field Club principals are Mr. Conover and Tom LeClair, who purchased seven lots in the subdivision in 2004 for their club project.
The club will include an 11,000-square-foot fitness center, a 7,200-square-foot learning center, an outdoor tennis pavilion, eight tennis courts, 71 parking spaces, a pool, a pond and an area for lawn games.
Project developers plan to sell 500 memberships at a price of $80,000 plus annual dues, which would provide access to both the Katama recreational facility and also a private club on the second floor of the Navigator restaurant in downtown Edgartown.
At the first public hearing on the Field Club in November, neighbors and Katama area residents voiced concerns over traffic, lack of access for emergency vehicles, impacts on the town sewer system and the club's hours of operation.
Mr. Barbini on Wednesday said a second access road for emergency vehicles has been added to the plan, and all on-street parking has been eliminated. A traffic study has also been completed which concludes additional traffic from the development would not cause backups along South Village and Katama Roads, Mr. Barbini said.
Mr. Barbini said he has received assurances from town wastewater superintendent Joe Alosso that the new subdivision and recreational facility would not place undue strain on the town sewer system. The system is currently operating at 45 percent capacity, Mr. Barbini said, and the new development would increase that to 61 per cent capacity. The Field Club developers are paying for their own sewer hookup.
Last July the Martha's Vineyard Commission voted 7-3 to approve the project as a development of regional impact (DRI). At the time several commission members expressed concerns about the changing character of the Island and a widening economic divide among its residents.
On Wednesday, Mr. Murphy criticized residents who suggested that proponents for the project had kept information from the public and planned to return with plans to expand the development.
"I don't have a problem with someone standing here and representing the facts. What I do have a problem with is people who use falsehood and lies to further their agenda. I think the record will show that we have shared information and tried to accommodate every person and address every issue throughout this process," the attorney for the developers said.
Mr. Conover also made an emotional plea to the board to consider the project on its merits and not on what he felt were unfounded criticism from some neighbors.
"We have all worked to be sensitive to everyone. As developers we have no intentions of doing anything out of character with Edgartown or the Island. We gave this a lot of thought, and we feel this will benefit the entire community, not just summer residents and members," he said.