MVC Returns to Golf Project

Commission Confronts Pressures from Oak Bluffs Selectmen and Developers to Expedite Plan; Compromise Is Reached

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

The high-speed chase to force quick approval of a luxury golf and housing project in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs continued without letting up last week when the Martha's Vineyard Commission took up an unusual request to hold a high-speed public review of the development plan.

"We want the commission to feel comfortable and not feel threatened and not feel a gun to the head. And public process is important to us," said Todd Rebello, chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen. "But we'd like to see you move this along as quickly as possible."

"Expedited - that can mean a lot of things," said commission member Tristan Israel. "It can mean no process, and just the commission voting - that can be an expedited process."

The remarks came during the MVC's regular weekly meeting last Thursday night.

By meeting's end, commissioners had agreed to a compromise fast-track schedule, under which it would begin review of the proposal late this month and hold a pair of public hearings in early September. But MVC members refused to commit to voting on the proposal or otherwise ending the process by any particular date.

The golf and housing plan now sits before the commission for review as a development of regional impact (DRI) - even though a complete plan had not yet been received by the commission as of Thursday night. What was referred to the MVC was an undated copy of an agreement between Oak Bluffs town officials and Connecticut developer Corey Kupersmith that outlines the new plan for 270 acres owned by Mr. Kupersmith in the southern woodlands.

Two luxury golf course plans for the same property have been rejected by the MVC in the last year and a half.

Mr. Kupersmith's partner is Brian Lafferty, a Bolton housing developer.

The atmosphere around the golf and housing project is now highly charged, with developers pushing for approvals on nearly every level at a somewhat dizzying rate.

Last week the push moved to the MVC meeting, at which chairman James Vercruysse allowed Mr. Rebello to make his pitch to the commission to hold an "expedited" DRI review on Mr. Kupersmith's new plan.

"You have the power of review over this, and I respect that; you know I actually think that it is good to have an extra layer of review," Mr. Rebello told the commission. "But September 12 is there. . . and we just don't want to see the town put through a long drawn-out process."

"September 12?" asked commission member Christina Brown.

Sept. 12 is the date a legislative hearing is scheduled on a bill to have Oak Bluffs withdraw from the MVC. The bill will see no action before next year, because the state legislature has adjourned formal session until January, and a town meeting ballot vote is still required in the town for the withdrawal to take effect.

But on Thursday night the threat nevertheless hung in the air, even as Mr. Rebello reiterated that "We don't want the commission to feel like it has a gun to its head."

The request for an expedited process stirred minor confusion among members of the commission about how to proceed. "I'm at a loss; I don't know what's going on here," said commission member Michael Donaroma.

"I think it's clear that the Martha's Vineyard Commission would not ever enter into a review of anything that did not involve public input . . . but if you are talking about a vote [on the development plan] by September 12, that's a pretty spongy date in my mind - and impossible," said commission member Robert Zeltzer.

MVC staff planner and DRI coordinator Jennifer Rand had presented Mr. Vercruysse with a proposal for a high-speed public hearing schedule that would compress the entire development review into a two-week period.

Ms. Rand's proposal called for holding a pre-public hearing review on August 26, followed by public hearings on Sept. 4, 5, 8, 9 and 10, with a possible vote by the commission before Sept. 12.

In the end the commission decided to meet Mr. Rebello part of the way, and agreed to set a pre-public hearing review for August 26 and back-to-back public hearings on Sept. 4 and 5.

"I'm always in favor of looking at a plan, and I don't think the commission has ever dragged things out," said Mr. Donaroma.

"But why is there a need to vote this by September 12?" asked commission member Roger Wey, the one Oak Bluffs selectman who is not a part of the golf course development campaign.

"Forget that," said Mr. Donaroma.

In the 26-year history of the commission, there is no precedent for putting a DRI review on a fast track. Mr. Vercruysse said he is comfortable with the commission's decision.

"The outcome is what I expected it would be - I thought the commission would say, ‘We'll give you the first date and that's it' - and that's all I thought we should give them," said Mr. Vercruysse yesterday.

The new plan for the southern woodlands 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 selectmen and developers have said repeatedly that there are commitments from both the state and the land bank to participate in the deal, although that is not the case.

On Thursday night Mr. Rebello said the selectmen want to see the MVC review speeded up in part because of state funding commitments to buy a portion of the old Webb's Camping Area, now owned by Mr. Kupersmith.

"We have state money that will be available to put toward buying some of this land, money that has already been approved," Mr. Rebello said.

In fact, there has been no commitment from the state, only an earmark in the environmental bond bill. The earmark does not mean that the money will ultimately be appropriated for the project.

Mr. Vercruysse said yesterday that an agreement by the commission to set a start date for the review process does not translate to a quick vote - or a quick approval of the development project.

"We can guarantee the developer a start date, and after that it's going to take on a life of its own. It's still going to be our normal process, and it's open-ended after that," Mr. Vercruysse said.

At the meeting Thursday there was some suggestion that much of the information in the new plan will be a repeat of the previous two plans, but MVC staff planners David Wessling and William Wilcox said the addition of houses to the plan will mean a new review of traffic and nitrogen impacts.

Mr. Vercruysse said yesterday that the request for the expedited public hearing process came to him in a telephone call from Mr. Rebello.

"It came to me from Todd, who had been asked by the developers," Mr. Vercruysse said. He said the expedited public hearing review was not a subject for discussion during an executive session held with members of the commission, the Oak Bluffs selectmen and the developers two weeks ago.

"It wasn't agreed on at the executive session; it wasn't even talked about," Mr. Vercruysse said. He added:

"What I feel like I am accomplishing here is trying to work with the town's request - they are the ones threatening to pull out of the commission and I don't want to have that happen, so I want to work with the town.

"But I can't make any judgments on this plan until I've seen it, and I want to be really clear about that," he said.

In other business last week, the MVC also closed the oral portion of a public hearing on a proposal for a new gas station at the site of the old Coca-Cola bottling plant on State Road in Vineyard Haven. The applicants for the project are Tom Gervais of West Tisbury and Bob Goldsborough of Baltimore, Md.

The written record on the project will remain open for two more weeks.

The commission also voted 15-0 to approve an addition for the Vineyard Tennis Center and Fitness Club at the Martha's Vineyard Airport.