Faced with Denial by Board of Appeals, Developers of Katama Private Club Withdraw Application for Now

In an unexpected turn, the applicants for an upscale members-only recreational club in Katama abruptly withdrew their application at a zoning board of appeals meeting Tuesday, after two members of the board said they intended to vote against the proposal.

Sean Murphy, an attorney for Gerrett D. Conover and Thomas LeClair, principal investors and developers of the Field Club, asked to withdraw the application after it became clear the project would not receive the four votes needed for approval from the five-member panel.

Board of appeals chairman Martin V. (Skip) Tomassian Jr. said the board ordinarily does not allow an applicant to withdraw an application so late in the process, but he recommended an exception be made considering all the work done on the project by both applicants and town officials.

The vote to allow the application to be withdrawn was unanimous.

The Field Club is planned for seven acres in the middle of a 25-lot subdivision owned by a group of Edgartown businessmen, including Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma. Plans call for 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.

Developers plan to sell 500 memberships at $80,000 apiece plus annual dues. Membership in the club would provide access to both the Katama 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 residents voiced concerns over traffic, lack of access for emergency vehicles, impact on the town sewer system and the club's hours of operation.

Representatives for the project, including Mr. Murphy and civil engineer Dick Barbini, appeared before the zoning board last week and gave a two-hour presentation that addressed many of those issues. The board then agreed to an unprecedented approach, asking representatives for the project to draft a preliminary motion of approval.

Mr. Murphy drafted the motion late last week and the two sides met again this week for what was expected to be a formality before the board approved the project.

But when Mr. Tomassian called for a straw vote to see if a majority of the board supported the application, two members, Carol Grant and John Magnuson, said they were inclined to approve the project, while Bob Farwell and Richard S. Knight Jr. said they would likely vote against the proposal.

Mr. Tomassian said he was largely undecided but would likely vote against the project.

Mr. Knight said he worried the sewage plan for the recreational facility would have a damaging impact on the town watershed. Although the facility will be connected to town sewer, the treated sewage from the facility would be released into the Edgartown Great Pond watershed, an area Mr. Knight said is even more sensitive to nitrogen than the Katama Bay watershed.

Some town officials have said the new facility would not create additional problems. Health agent Matthew Poole wrote a letter to the zoning board stating the project would reduce nitrogen levels at Katama because it would tie new and existing homes into town sewer and phase out several residential septic systems.

Town wastewater superintendent Joseph Alosso said the project will not put a strain on the sewer capacity.

Mr. Knight said he also worried the project would change the social and economic demographics of the town.

"I think we need to find ways to encourage diversity in our community. And this type of project certainly is not part of the solution," he said.

Ms. Grant said she didn't feel questions raised over the sewer plan should hold up the project.

"If anything else this will allow other homes to tie into the sewer, which is a good thing. I look at this and see a positive for the town," she said.

Following Tuesday's meeting, Mr. Murphy said he was surprised by what he perceived as a sudden change in the board's approach to the application.

"We thought we had addressed all the issues. Frankly, we were a little surprised by what transpired," he said.

Mr. Conover said yesterday he plans to resubmit the project application soon.

It is unclear whether the project will need to return to the Martha's Vineyard Commission for further review; the question will turn on changes to the plan.

The commission approved the project as a development of regional impact (DRI) last July along with a lengthy list of conditions.

Mr. Conover said representatives for the project were not contemplating going back before the commission.

"This is clearly an Edgartown project that has already been approved by the [commission]. It seems logical that it should stay before the town [zoning board]," he said.

He said representatives for the project are willing to make changes in the best interest of the town.

"We've tried this whole time not to come across as outside developers, we have tried to act as partners to the town in an attempt to create something that benefits both seasonal and year round residents," Mr. Conover said.