Connecticut Developer Refiles Massive Housing Proposal for Woodlands

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

The developers of the Down Island Golf Club slipped back onto the scene this week, quietly reviving a dormant plan for a massive affordable housing project in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs.

An attorney who represents Connecticut developer Corey Kupersmith wrote a letter to the Martha's Vineyard Commission late last week, asking to have the housing plan put back on an active track.

"Would you please recommence the DRI [development of regional impact] hearing process as soon as reasonably possible?" wrote James G. Ward, a partner with Nutter, McLennen & Fish, in a letter to commission DRI coordinator Jennifer Rand on June 6.

The Chapter 40B plan to build 320 low and moderate-income houses on 276 acres in the southern woodlands has been dormant since last August, at the request of the developer. The housing plan was put on hold while Mr. Kupersmith tried for the third time to win approval for a luxury golf and housing project on the same property, which he owns.

In October of last year the commission voted 9-8 to reject the golf club project.

Mr. Kupersmith's relationship with the town and the commission has seen a number of twists and turns in the last three years.

Along the way the developer has sued the commission more than once, including court appeals of the rejected DRIs that are still pending. In another lawsuit last year, Mr. Kupersmith challenged the right of the commission to review affordable housing projects under Chapter 40B, a state law that allows affordable housing projects to skirt most local zoning rules. But in a landmark decision 12 months ago, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Land Court strongly upheld the unique powers of the commission to review Chapter 40B projects.

More recently, Mr. Kupersmith and his supporters were key players in a political campaign to have the town of Oak Bluffs withdraw from the MVC.

The withdrawal failed by 98 votes in a special town election last month that saw a record turnout of voters.

Today, after much of the dust has settled, any development project for Mr. Kupersmith's project still must be reviewed by the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

First filed alongside the luxury golf club plan, the huge affordable housing plan was seen by many as a strategic move by the developer aimed at putting pressure on the commission to approve the golf club project.

The plan, which has never been accompanied by much in the way of detail, first called for 366 houses. At an MVC land use planning committee meeting last July, Brian Lafferty, a Bolton housing developer who is Mr. Kupersmith's partner, said the project would be scaled back to 320 houses.

The plan is called the Homes at Southern Woodlands.

The plan submitted to the commission last year included numerous illegible pages and a large chunk of information that was out of date.

Traffic studies, environmental impact studies and financial impact studies were all incomplete.

Early feedback from members of the commission last summer on the plan was unambiguous.

"I think it's obvious that this is not a serious plan and that nothing of this scale could ever be accepted except for negotiating purposes," said commission member James Athearn at the time.

Mr. Athearn was re-elected last November and is now the chairman of the commission.

Mr. Kupersmith did not return telephone calls from the Gazette yesterday. Mr. Ward also could not be reached for comment.

But in a letter published last month in the Martha's Vineyard Times, Mr. Kupersmith announced his intention to revive the affordable housing plan.

"A promise is a promise, my golf course is dead. I'm now a housing developer," Mr. Kupersmith wrote. The letter appeared one week after Oak Bluffs voters decided to stay in the MVC.

Commission executive director Mark London had no comment about the housing plan yesterday, except to say that the plan is unchanged from last year and that a tentative date has been set for a pre-public hearing review by the commission land use planning subcommittee.

The meeting is currently set for June 30. Land use planning committee meetings begin at 5:30 p.m. in the commission office in the Olde Stone Building in Oak Bluffs.