Duel Goes on in Woodlands

Planning Commission Hearing Is Closed, While the Developer Continues to Press Case on Multiple Fronts

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

The gavel came down one more time late last week and a public hearing was closed on a plan to build 320 homes in the last unbroken stretch of oak and pine forest in Oak Bluffs.

The plan for some 270 acres in the southern woodlands is the latest gambit by the former developer of the Down Island Golf Club, who is now locked in an unpleasant duel with the commission on an array of fronts, some legal, some political.

"This Martha's Vineyard Commission has a great habit of being inconsistent for 30 years - so now you want to stick it to the next guy who comes along - well, go and regulate somebody else in town," declared Brian Lafferty, the pugnacious Bolton housing developer who is a spokesman for developer Corey Kupersmith. The comment from Mr. Lafferty came on Thursday night in response to a question about regulating the use of fertilizers on lawns in the proposed housing development.

The housing plan is under review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI), and Thursday night marked the final public hearing on the project. The applicant is CK Associates, whose principal is Mr. Kupersmith, the Connecticut businessman who has tried without success to win approval from the commission for a private luxury golf course on his property in the southern woodlands.

Acting through Mr. Lafferty, Mr. Kupersmith is now pushing the massive housing plan for the same property. Crafted under Chapter 40B, a state law that permits affordable housing projects to skirt most local zoning rules, the plan is not only huge in scale, but is also missing a substantial amount of information that is required by the commission under its enabling legislation.

Mr. Lafferty, meanwhile, is trying to overturn a land court ruling that upholds the right of the commission to review Chapter 40B housing developments.

In recent weeks he has repeatedly knocked heads with the commission over the fact that the housing plan is incomplete and missing information required by the commission under its enabling legislation.

The plan calls for a mix of 240 single-family homes and 80 apartment units. Some of the houses and all of the apartments are planned for people with low and moderate incomes.

Mr. Lafferty had told the commission that there would be no more information from him, but on Thursday night he dropped a packet on the table in front of the commission that he said contained responses to a list of staff questions about the project.

There was only brief discussion, because commission members had not seen the responses before that night and Mr. Lafferty provided only one copy.

Early in the meeting, Mr. Lafferty took aim at commission members John Best and Richard Toole and also commission counsel Ronald H. Rappaport.

"I filed an ethics complaint against Mr. Toole and Mr. Best and a complaint with the bar association [Board of Bar Overseers] and the ethics commission against your counsel, Mr. Rappaport," Mr. Lafferty declared. He did not elucidate the nature of the complaints. It is the policy of the state ethics commission and the board of bar overseers to release no information about complaints; neither board will confirm or deny the existence of a complaint.

Christina Brown, the commission member who presides over DRI hearings, cut Mr. Lafferty short at the outset.

"This isn't the proper forum for this, and we won't be talking about it tonight," she said.

"I take exception to the way you are starting the hearing," Mr. Lafferty replied.

The developer had a brief outburst later in the meeting when Mrs. Brown read into the record a summary account of a handful of letters received about the project. One letter was from the executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, who laid out an array of concerns about the project.

"That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard," Mr. Lafferty said, referring to the letter from housing authority executive director Philippe Jordi. "Mr. Jordi doesn't know what he's talking about. That sleazeball called us and said if we give him $20,000 a year he would come and give us support. He's an extortionist," Mr. Lafferty said.

Mr. Jordi later corrected the record, noting that the housing authority had asked the Down Island Golf Club to contribute $25,000 a year to the housing authority as a mitigation for the golf club plan.

"We asked for $25,000 [a year] in perpetuity - what had been the standard for mitigation was a form of extortion, I guess," Mr. Jordi said.

In the end the public hearing on the plan was closed, but following standard practice, Mrs. Brown said the written record will be kept open for two more weeks.

Mr. Lafferty objected, and pushed the commission to take a vote.

"This seems patently unfair," he said, but Mrs. Brown remained firm.

"We always leave the written record open for two weeks," she said.

A vote on the plan is not expected before the end of the month.