Developer Threatens MVC Ruin in Campaign to Force Golf Deal

By JULIA WELLS

Gazette Senior Writer

The developer who wants to build a luxury golf course and an array of private homes in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs threatened to "bring down" the Martha's Vineyard Commission last week if the commission refuses to sign on to a back-room deal to approve the lucrative development scheme, the Gazette has learned.

The bare-knuckle threats from Bolton housing developer Brian Lafferty came in a closed-door meeting that took place in Boston Friday afternoon. Among other things, it is understood Mr. Lafferty told three members of the MVC that he and his partner, Connecticut developer Corey Kupersmith, will wreak financial ruin on the regional land use commission, if the agency refuses to go along with the development plan.

"If the Martha's Vineyard Commission doesn't approve this, we will destroy them with lawsuits. We will litigate and we will financially destroy them. We will bring them down," Mr. Lafferty reportedly said.

Held in a conference room adjacent to the Boston office of Robert Durand, the state secretary of environmental affairs, the private meeting was called ostensibly to discuss a new plan for the southern woodlands. The MVC has turned down two plans by Mr. Kupersmith for a private luxury golf course in the southern woodlands in the last year and a half.

The new plan is being touted by the developers as a settlement agreement, even though there is little left to settle since the MVC won a huge case in court recently that recognized the right of the commission to review Chapter 40B housing developments.

Mr. Lafferty and Mr. Kupersmith had also threatened to build a massive Chapter 40B affordable housing complex if the golf course plan was not approved. The 320-unit housing plan is now in front of the commission for review as a development of regional impact (DRI), although the commission has made it clear the plan has no chance for approval.

Four of the five Oak Bluffs selectmen are closely aligned with the developers and have signed the settlement agreement for the new golf course and housing plan.

It all adds up to a complicated political deal and an increasingly intensive land use plan for the southern woodlands.

The new proposal calls for an 18-hole championship golf course, 14 luxury homes, 16 affordable housing units, a state-owned campground and 26 acres of conservation land. The purported sweetener is the developer's pledge to buy the Windfarm Golf driving range and then sell it to the town and the land bank for use as open space. The driving range is privately owned and is not contiguous to the southern woodlands.

The land bank is not a formal party to the plan; land bank executive director James Lengyel attended the meeting on Friday but did not speak.

Any new plan must be approved by the commission as a DRI, although Mr. Lafferty reportedly made it clear last week that he has no intention of bringing the plan in front of the commission for review.

It is understood that this announcement, made by Mr. Lafferty at the private meeting on Friday, surprised even Oak Bluffs selectman Michael Dutton, who is a leading proponent of the new plan.

In addition to Mr. Dutton, the Friday meeting was attended by Martha's Vineyard Commission chairman James Vercruysse, commission members Roger Wey and Andrew Woodruff, land bank executive director James Lengyel, Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington, Mr. Durand's assistant Art Bergeron, Department of Environmental Management chief counsel Mary Griffin and Mr. Lafferty. In what was seen as an open show of political muscle, Mr. Lafferty was accompanied by James Michael Connolly, a well-known Republican lobbyist.

Oak Bluffs residents Ann Margetson and Paul Strauss also attended the session at the invitation of Mr. Turkington, although Mr. Lafferty reportedly tried to bar them from the meeting at the outset. Mr. Wey, the lone Oak Bluffs selectman who does not support the golf course plan, reportedly stood up to Mr. Lafferty and his threats more than once during the meeting. In the end Mr. Strauss and Mrs. Margetson were allowed to attend the meeting but were not permitted to speak or to sit at the table.

There is some question about whether the three-member MVC subcommittee violated the open meeting law by attending the private session. The meeting was not posted, and under the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, all subcommittees of governmental bodies are required to post their meetings. No formal record was kept of the meeting.

Public officials who attended the meeting said they had signed a confidentiality agreement before the meeting and could not talk about what took place.

The Gazette obtained a detailed, first-hand account of the meeting from sources who wished to remain anonymous.

It is understood that the meeting began with a presentation of the developer's new plan - made by selectman Dutton.

Mr. Lafferty said the plan will enable Oak Bluffs to meet its requirement for affordable housing under state law. He also said he plans to restrict the market-rate houses to seasonal residents, although sources who attended the meeting were skeptical about the legality of such a move.

The three members of the commission told Mr. Lafferty the new plan looks worse than the two golf course plans that were rejected by the commission, in part because of the intensive housing development and the attendant squeeze on open space.

Mr. Lafferty was unfazed. "I'm not dealing with the Martha's Vineyard Commission; I'm only dealing with the town," he reportedly said.

But Mr. Bergeron noted that the town is still a member of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and even though the town voted in March to take the first steps to withdraw from the commission, Mr. Bergeron said it now appears the state legislature will not take up the town withdrawal bill until next year. Mr. Bergeron also underscored the sharp change in the political landscape following the land court ruling upholding the commission in the 40B case, and he expressed surprise that the meeting on Friday had even been arranged.

Mr. Dutton said he expected any new plan will need to come back to the MVC, but Mr. Lafferty disagreed, according to sources. "No way. The commission will either agree to the settlement agreement or Oak Bluffs will get out of the commission," he reportedly said.

Mr. Dutton defended the commission, calling it valuable to the town. But Mr. Lafferty took a much harder stand.

Mr. Lafferty reportedly said that if the new plan is not approved, he will use the 70-foot-high nets at the Windfarm Golf driving range to advertise a campaign to have the town withdraw from the MVC. He also told the group that all of the earlier promises to build an organic golf course are now out the window. "There isn't going to be any organic plan. We will only do [the minimum state requirements]," sources quoted Mr. Lafferty as saying.

There was some discussion about the proposal to have the state participate in the plan and buy part of the old Webb's Camping Area, now owned by Mr. Kupersmith.

Speaking for DEM, Ms. Griffin said her agency is facing a serious financial crisis and is considering staff cutbacks that include four-day work weeks. She said she does not know if DEM will even have the resources to run a campground on the Vineyard.

The meeting ended with no resolution, after the three members of the Martha's Vineyard Commission told Mr. Lafferty of their refusal to sign the settlement agreement. Both Ms. Griffin and Mr. Bergeron told the group to come back when and if a serious plan is ever on the table.

"We can't do anything unless it looks like these things are converging on an agreement. And it doesn't look that way right now," Mr. Bergeron said.