Developers Bring Their Housing Plan Back to Commission
By JULIA WELLS
Alternately cracking shrill jokes and smacking the table with his hand, a Bolton housing developer last night unveiled a new version of a plan to build 320 homes on the southern woodlands property once planned as the site for the Down Island Golf Club.
Brian Lafferty, who works for property owner and would-be golf club developer Corey Kupersmith, wasted little time before throwing down the gauntlet in front of the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
"Let's get right to the bottom line here - I don't think the Martha's Vineyard Commission has any jurisdiction to look at this. The only thing the commission can look at is what's required under Chapter 40B," Mr. Lafferty told the land use planning subcommittee of the MVC.
It was the first face-to-face encounter between members of the commission and the two developers since Mr. Kupersmith's luxury golf and housing project was rejected by the commission eight months ago.
The developers are now suing the commission in court on more than one front, including a renewed challenge to the commission's right to review plans under Chapter 40B, a state law that allows affordable housing projects to skirt most zoning rules.
Wearing his trademark baseball cap, Mr. Kupersmith also attended the land use planning committee meeting last night and sat quietly while Mr. Lafferty did the talking.
"Let's start this off on the right foot now," he told commission member Megan Ottens Sargent when she asked about wildlife studies and an environmental impact statement for the property. "We're not going to get into this notion of doing any more wildlife studies. There are no moths on that property and there are no endangered species. And we are not doing any wildlife studies about any birds or moths," he added, banging the table with his hand.
"It's pretty clear that what's going to happen to this site is a dramatic change in the flora and fauna. We are going to clear about 70 per cent of the site. I'm not going to hide behind smoke and mirrors. This is a suburban subdivision," Mr. Lafferty said.
"And the change in the landscape is going to be . . . " began land use planning committee chairman Christina Brown.
"Pretty dramatic," Mr. Lafferty said, finishing her sentence. "So your impact statement is that there's going to be a whole lot of impact," he added.
The housing plan was first filed a little over year ago, but it was allowed to go dormant at the request of the developer while Mr. Kupersmith tried for a third time to win approval for the golf course project.
After the golf course was rejected in a close vote, Mr. Kupersmith's supporters also tried to convince Oak Bluffs to pull out of the MVC, but that also failed at a special town election in early May when a record turnout voted to stay in the commission.
Last night the housing plan was officially back on the table, but much like a year ago when the plan was first filed, it was accompanied by little in the way of detail.
The plan calls for building 320 homes on 280 acres of land owned by Mr. Kupersmith in the southern woodlands. Mr. Lafferty said 240 houses will be single family homes and the rest will be studio rental apartments. He said 25 per cent of the homes and the apartments will be designated as affordable units, while the rest will be market-priced. The affordable homes will be priced at about $135,000 apiece, Mr. Lafferty said. He did not quote a price for the remaining homes. Individual septic systems are planned for all the homes and some kind of common septic system is planned for the apartments. The entrance to the development will be off Barnes Road. When asked about a traffic study, Mr. Lafferty pulled one out of his bag, said it was his only copy, but promised to deliver more by early next week.
The plan as it is currently configured calls for one house on every three-quarters of an acre - triple the density allowed under minimum zoning in the southern woodlands.
The plan filed last year includes many illegible pages and makes general reference to an array of studies that were done in connection with the golf club project.
Mrs. Brown tried to pin Mr. Lafferty down about exactly which studies would be submitted.
"It says here, ‘see old studies,' " Mrs. Brown said, reading from the original application.
"I didn't think you needed any more paper cluttering up the office," Mr. Lafferty replied.
"We have new commission members, and if there are specific studies that you are submitting then we would like to know that," Mrs. Brown said.
"If the Martha's Vineyard Commission has something specific that it would like, then why don't you ask for it and we'll decide whether we are willing to provide it or not," Mr. Lafferty returned.
The exchange quickly became typical.
Commission member Jennie Greene quizzed Mr. Lafferty about whether the affordable homes will be clustered in one location or spread throughout the development.
"We haven't decided yet," Mr. Lafferty said, adding: "But I'll tell you this. A person who is paying $135,000 for a house and struggling to make ends meet often doesn't want to live next door to a guy who has a million-dollar home and a kid who wears $200 sneakers."
Mr. Lafferty said the concept behind the plan is simple.
"This is a plan that promotes affordable housing. And there is a need for affordable housing on the Vineyard. I've been coming in front of this commission for the last three years and all I ever hear the commissioners talk about is keeping the Vineyard the way it is. I hear [commission chairman] Jim Athearn talk about keeping the Vineyard for fishing and for clamming and that's all well and good, but where are the Islanders going to live?"
In the end the commission agreed to set tentative dates for a public hearing (Aug. 7) and a site visit (July 19). Mr. Lafferty and Mr. Kupersmith both stressed that the site visit will be limited to members of the commission. Then Mr. Lafferty amended the directive to include elected Oak Bluffs officials.
"But absolutely no unfettered public access," he said.