Eleventh-Hour Chaos Precedes MVC Final Vote on Golf Course

By JULIA WELLS

The Martha's Vineyard Commission last night affirmed its decision to reject the Down Island Golf Club plan, but not before a minor fracas around an unexpected eleventh-hour pitch from the Oak Bluffs selectmen to have the commission delay the final written version of the denial.

The reason for the request was unclear at best, although it was ostensibly rooted in the recent swirl of events in the aftermath of a 9-7 vote by the commission two weeks ago to reject developer Corey Kupersmith's golf club plan. It was the second time in 15 months that the commission had rejected a golf course plan for some 270 acres of land in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs.

"The commission could be preserving both its own options as well as the options available for Oak Bluffs by delaying its vote," wrote Michael Dutton, chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, in a letter to commission chairman James Vercruysse yesterday afternoon. The letter was unveiled at the commission meeting last night.

A petition to take the southern woodlands by eminent domain is now circulating in town, as is a petition to have the town withdraw from the commission. A town meeting is expected to be called sometime in the next six weeks to take up the two issues. In his letter to Mr. Vercruysse yesterday, Mr. Dutton said the town had instructed town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport to explore the eminent domain issue.

The origin of the letter was fuzzy.

Three of the five Oak Bluffs selectmen were present at the meeting last night, including two selectmen who are members of the commission. Commission member and selectman Kenneth Rusczyk said he had been consulted about the letter and was in agreement with it, while commission member and selectman Roger Wey said he knew nothing about the letter and had not been consulted.

Oak Bluffs selectman Todd Rebello, who is not on the commission but attended the meeting, said the letter had been developed in concert with town counsel Ronald Rappaport.

"I wrote the letter with Michael Dutton, and Ron Rappaport participated," Mr. Rebello said. "We talked with Ken [Rusczyk] and even Richard [Combra] while he was on vacation," Mr. Rebello said. "What we are trying to offer you is good faith, but we just need some time to put our eggs in order. It's not a delay, it's just good faith. Let us work on it."

Mr. Dutton did not attend the meeting.

But his letter outlined two principal reasons for the request: the possibility of an eminent domain taking in the southern woodlands, and also Mr. Kupersmith's pending court case against the town and the commission that will test whether the commission has the right to review affordable housing projects under Chapter 40B of the state law. Mr. Kupersmith has filed an application to build a huge housing project on his property. The dispute is pending in land court.

"My hope is that the commission could delay its written decision until all the relevant legal opinions and relevant court decisions have been rendered," Mr. Dutton wrote.

Last night the commission was plainly divided over what to do.

Mr. Vercruysse, who had voted against the golf club plan, said he was persuaded that a delay of the vote on the written decision for one week might be helpful to the town.

"I stand by my vote and I feel I made the right vote, but I would like to keep my ears open," he said.

"The selectmen of the town of Oak Bluffs asked us to wait one week," said Christina Brown.

"This is a consensus of the board," said Mr. Rusczyk.

"I feel like the board is asking us to hold off for a lot of reasons," said Jennie Greene.

Others disagreed.

Richard Toole recalled the chaos the last time the golf club developers asked for a delay on the written decision. "I feel like I am a hostage here," he said.

"I worked hard to come to a decision and my vote, and it was done with awareness of all the threats out there. That decision has been made," said James Athearn.

"We made a decision and I don't see the benefit to a delay," said Linda Sibley. Mrs. Sibley noted that a vote by the commission to adopt the written decision does not prevent the developer from coming in with a new plan.

"There seems to be a move afoot lately that if you don't like the vote, then change the process," Mr. Toole said. "I think we made a decision, we need to take a vote and complete the process," he added.

In the end the commission voted 8-5 with one abstention to reject the request to delay its written decision. After some discussion about language changes, the written decision was approved 13-0 with one abstention.

Before the final vote, a handful of golf course supporters stormed out of the room. "This is unbelievable," said one loudly, slamming the door on the way out.