The legal battle over a turf field at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School will continue after the Oak Bluffs planning board voted Tuesday to appeal a recent state Land Court decision that allowed the field to bypass local zoning review. 

In a brief meeting, the board voted 2-1 in favor of filing an appeal with the state appeals court. Planning board chair Ewell Hopkins and Jojo Lambert voted in favor; Sean DeBettencourt was the lone nay vote. 

Member Erik Albert was not in attendance and Mark Crossland had recused himself. 

The high school has been trying to install a new turf field at its Oak Bluffs campus as part of a larger athletic facility overhaul. In 2022, the planning board denied the project over concerns that the field could pose a hazard to the area’s water quality. 

In November, Land Court judge Kevin Smith ruled the board did not have the authority to deny the project, saying it was protected under the Dover Amendment, a state law that exempts educational uses from some zoning restrictions. 

The decision meant the board no longer needed a special permit from the planning board. 

The planning board decision to appeal Tuesday came after the board met with the Oak Bluffs select board last week in a closed door session to talk about the lawsuit. The town has until Dec. 22 to file an appeal. 

There was no discussion during Tuesday’s meeting about the strategy for the appeal, though Mr. DeBettencourt expressed frustration over voting without Mr. Albert. 

“One member recusing and one member not being here means that potentially a minority of this planning board could vote for something that has been significantly divisive for the town,” he said. “I think that’s problematic. I understand that’s the process, but I don’t think that’s a good look.” 

He said he thought the vote should have been delayed, but Mr. Hopkins said that the timeline to appeal did not offer many options. 

“It is unfortunate,” Mr. Hopkins said. “Behind the scenes, I did everything in my power, as well as delayed this vote by 10 minutes, to give Erik an opportunity to take part.” 

The new field project has not made much forward movement since the judge’s decision just before Thanksgiving. The high school committee asked the superintendent to reach out to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission about the project’s approval before that body. The school would need a renewed approval to build anything.

The school committee is scheduled to discuss the appeal at a meeting Friday morning.

Michael Watts, a school committee member who was a liaison to the school’s attorney, said the planning board was within its rights to appeal, but he was frustrated that continued delays could come to the detriment of student athletes. 

The revamp of the athletic facilities would also include a new track. The existing track is continuing to deteriorate and, in a few years, it won’t be able to be repaired again, he said. 

“We’re getting to a place where we won’t be able to have track,” he said. “That’s sad.”