Vineyard Golf Club Plans Home Cluster

Edgartown Zoning Board to Hear Case for 15 Sites on West Tisbury Road; Member Housing Is at Issue

By MANDY LOCKE

Owners of the Vineyard Golf Club, a private golf course in Edgartown, are now proposing to build a cluster of luxury homes for club members on the property's southeastern corner.

It's a request that some Island officials think they shot down five years ago.

"I thought if they wanted to build a golf course, fine, but no housing except for staff," said Lenny Jason, Edgartown building inspector who led the move to strike member housing from the project in 1999 during the Martha's Vineyard Commission development of regional impact review.

The Vineyard Golf Club developers underwent more than a year of stringent review by the state, the commission and the town before winning approval for the luxury golf course.

The 245-acre property had been a failed 148-lot subdivision before a trio of golf enthusiasts mapped out plans to build an 18-hole course. The 1999 MVC approval carried a hefty list of conditions - the longest list ever crafted in the agency's 25-year history - and forced the developers to only use organic fertilizers. Another of the more than 30 stipulations, some veteran commissioners said, prohibited member housing.

"I thought if they were getting rid of 148 lots that local kids might have had a shot at getting, they shouldn't have housing [for members]," Mr. Jason said this week.

The new plan - which calls for 15 homes on 13 acres of golf club property along West Tisbury Road - will be reviewed by the Edgartown zoning board of appeals on Feb. 4. It is not clear whether the board of appeals will refer the request to the MVC. If the board, however, does not send the project to the MVC, Mr. Jason said he would refer it there when the developer tries to secure building permits.

But Owen Larkin, managing partner and president of Vineyard Golf Club, said this week that he has the right to build member housing.

"I could easily make the argument [member houses] are already approved, but I want to continue the good relationship we've engendered with the town and get their clarification and blessing," said Mr. Larkin, a resident of Edgartown and Brookline.

Member housing appears to be part of a bargain struck between some town officials and golf club owners. If the member housing is approved, Mr. Larkin has agreed to extend - and pay for - sewer lines from club property to the Pennywise Path Preserve, a site slated for a 60-unit affordable housing development.

"If they can get their housing, they would be willing to extend the lines out to the affordable housing project," Fred B. Morgan, chairman of the town's affordable housing committee, said this week. The golf club's offer would save the town-sponsored project about $400,000.

Mr. Larkin said in his view the Martha's Vineyard Commission erased member housing only from the "golf course" itself - a 100-acre piece of the 235-acre property on which the 18-hole course, the clubhouse and employee housing now stand.

"There's nothing murky, nothing ambiguous about it. The document [MVC approval] stands on its own. All the debate that goes back and forth between the applicant, the commissioners, the proponents, the opponents is irrelevant. It all leads up to the final molding of the decision," said Mr. Larkin. The MVC condition says that "no member housing can be built on the golf course parcel." The 13 acres on which developers plan to create member homes is not part of the golf course, Mr. Larkin contends.

Mark London, executive director of the commission, was not here in 1999, and said he would need to explore the record before discussing the plan.

The zoning board of appeals, in its 1999 review, opposed member guest housing, eliminating six bedrooms on the third floor of the clubhouse unless those rooms were to be used for employees.

But Mr. Larkin said the time is now right for club owners to go ahead with their original intentions to provide member housing.

"The golf course is built. It's been operating successfully for two years. We have done just about 100 per cent of everything we said we would do six years ago," said Mr. Larkin. "We've proven over six years that we're good neighbors and that we'll do what we say we'll do when we say we'll do it. We've remained consistent."

Mr. Larkin said the Vineyard Golf Club is financially healthy, and the business' viability does not rely on selling these homes. The club has no outstanding debt from either the $16 million land purchase or construction costs, Mr. Larkin said. Memberships are nearly sold out - 30 shy of a cap of 430, he said.

"We knew that the first shovel in the ground would be the winner. It's the only reason we were willing to pay $16.2 million for our piece of property," said Mr. Larkin, referring to the Meetinghouse Golf Club proposal proceeding through review at the same time.

The Vineyard Golf Club has been in the news since last fall when health officials found high nitrate levels in several private wells on neighboring homes. Officials have not officially determined the source of the contamination, but they have been investigating the Vineyard Golf Club and private septic systems.

Mr. Larkin said the plume did not originate on Vineyard Golf Club property.

"I'm 100 per cent confident that the Vineyard Golf Club is not the cause, in any way, of the problems some of our neighbors are experiencing. These 15 leased lots, which will be connected to the already installed wastewater treatment facility line, should be of no concern to them," said Mr. Larkin.

Vineyard Golf Club owners have not yet decided if they will simply lease lots to club members or build the homes before leasing the parcels. Either way, Mr. Larkin imagines the club will retain ownership of several houses to offer weekly or monthly rentals to members.

"It's too early. I don't want to figure out the fourth quarter before kickoff," he said.