Acting through their Boston attorney, the managing partners for the Vineyard Golf Club have been engaged in a series of quiet threats and maneuvers in recent weeks - all aimed at avoiding a Martha's Vineyard Commission review of a new plan to build 16 luxury houses for members at the golf club.
The commission expressly denied all member housing when it approved the golf club five years ago.
Despite an unambiguous public record to the contrary, the partners now claim that the member housing was somehow allowed when the MVC approved the private golf club. If they do not get their way with the luxury housing, the partners are holding as hostage two affordable housing lots that were donated to the town when the golf club was developed, demanding that the lots be returned or that the town reimburse the partners for their full value.
The affordable housing lots have already been conveyed to two Edgartown families who now have homes on the lots.
Three weeks ago the attorney for the golf partners set July 30 as a deadline for an answer to the demands.
"The MVGP [Martha's Vineyard Golf Partners] requests that prior to July 30 the [zoning board of appeals] acknowledge that the MVC has already approved the member housing. In the event that the ZBA persists in its position that the MVC did not approve the member housing, the MVGP will seek the return of the affordable housing lots which have already been conveyed or in the alternative the fair market value of those lots," wrote Robert S. Sanoff, a partner with Foley Hoag in Boston, who represents the golf club partners. The letter was sent to town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport.
Last week Mr. Rappaport answered.
"We reject your position as frivolous," the town counsel wrote in an eight-page letter to Mr. Sanoff.
Relying on the extensive public record surrounding the golf club review including newspaper accounts, minutes and tape recordings of public hearings, Mr. Rappaport reconstructed the events that took place in July of 1999 when the commission voted to approve the golf club as a development of regional impact (DRI).
The DRI review was exhaustive and high profile. The golf club proposal was for the old Vineyard Acres II subdivision in the rural perimeters of Edgartown, off the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. The links-style golf club opened three summers ago.
The original plan for the golf club called for building 15 member houses around the 18-hole course, but just before the approval the commission voted to eliminate all member housing. The only housing permitted on the property was staff housing and affordable housing lots that had been donated by the golf club developers. The commission decision to approve the golf course was accompanied by a long list of conditions, including one that addressed the subject of housing.
The condition stated: "Should there be any housing to be provided upon the golf course parcel, then said housing should be for the purposes of providing housing for golf course employees/staff/help."
Early this year Owen Larkin, one of three original partners in the golf club, reintroduced the plan to build member housing at the club. This time the plan called for building 16 luxury homes. But golf club partners appeared to develop a sudden case of amnesia over the member housing, claiming that the housing was in fact approved by the commission and that the housing plan did not need to return to the commission for review.
In early June the board of appeals sought an opinion from Mr. Rappaport about the problem and his reply was clear: The housing plan must return to the MVC for fresh review as a DRI.
On June 4 the board of appeals voted to refer the plan to the commission.
The plan is now in front of the commission although it has not been scheduled yet for a public hearing.
On July 8 Mr. Sanoff wrote a letter to Mr. Rappaport to again press the case.
In his letter to Mr. Rappaport, Mr. Sanoff suggested that the board of appeals had misread the condition, and that there is simply a "nomenclature" problem involving the golf course parcel.
"The ZBA's position hinges entirely on an incorrect reading of [the condition]," Mr. Sanoff wrote in part. Mr. Sanoff claimed that while the project overall created four affordable housing lots, the developer's offer to create two of those lots was contingent on member housing being approved.
But Mr. Rappaport found that all of Mr. Sanoff's claims are contradicted by the public record. The town attorney crisply laid out the facts, including:
* The commission decision.
* Newspaper accounts from the time.
* Statements made at the time by Owen Larkin and other spokesmen.
* Statements made by Mr. Larkin to one member of the commission.
In an interview with the Gazette one week after the MVC vote in July of 1999, Mr. Larkin spoke out at length about the decision to eliminate the member housing, calling it problematic. In a later story Mr. Larkin told the Gazette that he intended to ask the commission to reconsider its position on the housing.
The move to eliminate the member housing came from Leonard Jason Jr., the Edgartown building and zoning inspector, who was also a member of the MVC.
Mr. Rappaport also reveals in the letter that during the two weeks between the MVC oral vote and the written decision, Mr. Larkin paid a visit to Mr. Jason to ask him to reconsider his motion.
"Mr. Jason explicitly told Mr. Larkin and his representative that he would not reconsider his vote, and indeed, VGC was fortunate to have received his positive vote on the golf course," Mr. Rappaport wrote.
Mr. Larkin later told the Gazette that he would live with the condition but return to the commission at some later date to try again.
"I am going back but not now," Mr. Larkin said at the time. "If I never build the housing, it doesn't matter to the deal. My pocket and my two partners' pockets will be a little lighter," he also said.
In his letter to Mr. Sanoff, Mr. Rappaport concluded:
"The ZBA's referral to the MVC was required. The MVC must act favorably on member housing before the ZBA has any authority to consider amending its special permit. Should you continue to contend that the MVC in fact approved member housing, I would suggest that you raise that argument with the MVC. In the meantime, VGC should focus their efforts on satisfying the standards needed to obtain governmental permits for member housing, rather than threatening to pursue the return of two affordable lots on which deserving families currently reside."