The Oak Bluffs planning board this week said it will drop its appeal in the long-running legal case over plans for a turf field at the regional high school. 

The board’s attorney Michael Goldsmith notified the state Land Court of the change of heart in a court filing Friday. The board had planned to challenge judge Kevin Smith’s November decision that annulled the board’s rejection of the turf application, but the appeal lost steam after the Oak Bluffs select board voted this month to halt further municipal spending on the case.

“[T]he board advises the Court that the board will not be pursuing its appeal,” Mr. Goldsmith wrote to the court Friday. 

The planning board’s withdrawal now lifts one of the major obstacles for the high school, which has been talking about overhauling its athletic facilities since 2016.

The planning board rejected the school’s plans for the field in 2022 out of concern that the artificial turf could harm the area’s drinking water. The school challenged the denial and emerged victorious when judge Smith annulled the planning board’s denial. 

The planning board voted in December to appeal judge Smith’s decision, arguing against his interpretation of the so-called “Dover Amendment” that allows the field application to bypass most town zoning regulations.

The planning board had not yet filed any arguments with the state appeals court in the case, and had little to no money to continue after the select board tightened the town’s purse strings on Jan. 11. 

While the planning board was interested in breaking new legal ground in the appeal, the select board didn’t have the same appetite.

“There was little room in overturning the case law,” select board member Thomas Hallahan told the Gazette at the time. “We’re not in favor of spending the time and the funds on doing that.”

The school committee’s attorneys were also asserting that the planning board didn’t have the right to appeal the land court’s decision, filing a motion to strike the appeal earlier this month. 

The school argued the planning board had no jurisdiction and only the town could appeal the decision. 

“The Court did not reverse or modify the Planning Board’s decision,” the school attorneys wrote on Jan. 12. “It wiped it out as a legal nullity.” 

While the planning board maintained it had standing in the case, the point was moot because of its decision to end its pursuit of an appeal. 

In an interview with the Gazette Saturday, planning board chair Ewell Hopkins said he didn’t see a responsible way forward given the select board’s decision to withhold funds. 

“I don’t see how you go to court with a house divided,” he said. 

Arguments over the school’s plans for a field have been contentious and spilled over into town meeting season last year. The three up-Island towns all voted against the school budget in protest of the school committee’s lawsuit against the planning board. 

Mr. Hopkins said the debate transcends artificial turf versus grass. Instead, he was arguing for the town to have a say in zoning when it comes to protecting the environment.

“We have not been fighting the merits of our decision,” he said. “We’ve been fighting for the authority to have an opinion.”

The school committee will have to go through some more red tape before getting final approvals for the athletic facility construction, which also includes a new track. 

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission will see the application again and the Oak Bluffs building department is reviewing an application for preliminary site work. The town’s board of health has also considered a moratorium on artificial playing surfaces, though it hasn’t taken any action.