Members Replaced, Town Zoning Board Approves Field Club

By MIKE SECCOMBE

The developers of an exclusive recreational club at Katama cleared the final hurdle to the project on Wednesday night after a sudden change of heart - and members - at the Edgartown zoning board of appeals.

The board voted 5-0 to grant a special permit for the multi-million-dollar Field Club.

Under the rules of the board of appeals, at least four of the five members must agree on a special permit in order for it to be approved. Three weeks ago two members of the board had said they opposed the project, but both were absent from the public hearing on Wednesday night.

Two new members, who had not previously been involved in deliberations, replaced them. Both spoke in support of the development before voting for it.

The Field Club is planned as a members-only not-for-profit club, with eight tennis courts, a pool, pond and lawn games area, an 11,000-square-foot fitness center, a 7,200-square-foot learning center, tennis pavilion and parking for 71 cars.

The club is planned to have 500 members. Over 100 memberships already have been sold, 50 of them first-tier memberships at $85,000 each and most of the rest at $100,000. Another 30 founding memberships were sold for considerably higher sums which the developers declined to reveal.

Members will also have access to a private club on the second floor of the redeveloped Navigator, a longtime seasonal restaurant at the foot of Main street that the Field Club developers also own. Plans call for rebuilding the Navigator with a restaurant and retail space on the first floor. A new walkway between the building and the harbor is also planned.

The Field Club will occupy seven acres in the middle of a 25-acre residential development which is owned by a group of Edgartown businessmen, including selectman Michael Donaroma.

The passage of the development plan through the zoning board of appeals has been unusual in a number of ways.

After a two-hour presentation in early January, addressing concerns raised by neighbors and Katama residents, the board agreed to an unprecedented approach, asking representatives of the proposal to draft their own preliminary motion of approval.

Sean Murphy, an attorney representing project principals Gerrett D. Conover and Thomas LeClair, drafted the document and the board met again on Jan. 16 for what was expected to be a quick vote to approve the special permit.

But when board chairman Martin V. (Skip) Tomassian Jr. called for a straw poll of the five members, two of them - Bob Farwell and Richard S. Knight Jr. - indicated they would vote against the project. Among other things they cited concerns about detrimental effects on the neighborhood and potential pollution of the Edgartown Great Pond from wastewater which, under the plan would be piped to the Edgartown treatment plant via Clevelandtown and Meschaket Roads, at the expense of the developers.

No formal vote was taken, and Mr. Murphy immediately asked to withdraw the application.

This also was highly unusual, as Mr. Tomassian explained, noting that the board ordinarily did not allow a project to be withdrawn so late in the process. He recommended an exception be made in recognition of all the work done by proponents and town officials.

The vote to allow the application to be withdrawn was unanimous.

Two weeks later, the proposal was resubmitted, essentially unchanged.

Speaking to the Gazette on Jan. 29, the day the plan was resubmitted, Mr. Conover suggested the only problem with the project was that members of the board had not properly understood its benefits, and approval was largely a matter of explaining the project better.

"It seemed the primary concern was a misunderstanding of the town sewering of this project," Mr. Conover said.

When the zoning board met to reconsider the project on Wednesday, the sewer plans for the project remained unchanged.

The difference was in the composition of the board itself.

Mr. Farwell and Mr. Knight were gone, their absence unexplained during the meeting.

Asked after it was over why they were not there, Mr. Tomassian said: "Conflict of scheduling."

Mr. Tomassian said both substitutes were familiar with the details of the development.

"One new person - Nancy Kelly - was here for all the previous hearings," Mr. Tomassian said. "She sat in back.

"And this other lady, Nancy Whipple, she's a regular member and is pretty familiar with the whole thing [although] she didn't sit in on it the first time.

"It was easy for her to get up to speed."

Among those who attended to speak in favor of the Field Club was another Edgartown selectman, Arthur Smadbeck.

Coincidentally, Mr. Conover himself had successfully sought a position as an alternate on the zoning board of appeals, and was appointed by the Edgartown selectmen on Jan. 16. Two selectmen, Michael Donaroma and Margaret Serpa, were sitting that day, but Mr. Smadbeck was not,

Later in the same day, Mr. Conover's Field Club plan had its setback in front of the zoning board, and the plan was withdrawn.

Mr. Conover was never sworn in as an alternate member of the board, and telephoned the next day to withdraw from the position.

Also on Jan. 16, the selectmen appointed Nancy Kelly as an alternate to the board. Mrs. Whipple was appointed as a full member on Oct. 23 of last year.

Yesterday Mr. Conover said he had withdrawn his name from the zoning board position only temporarily, until the Field Club project had cleared the approval process.

"I respectfully asked to just have my being sworn in delayed until this application was resolved, at which time I would return to them to be reappointed and hopefully sworn in," he said.

Mr. Conover said he had no idea that Mrs. Kelly was the other applicant until the day they were appointed.

He said he did not know why the two board members originally opposed to the Field Club plan were not present on Wednesday night, although he conceded that he had spoken privately to both of the members after the Jan. 16 meeting. Mr. Conover said he never suggested that they should not appear for the hearing this week.

"All procedures were followed 100 per cent, and we feel that we properly addressed the concerns that were common throughout. That's really all that has occurred here," Mr. Conover said.

Board assistant Lisa Morrison said yesterday that Mr. Farwell had gone to Florida this week, and Mr. Knight had contacted her to say he could not sit. There was no choice but to turn to the two new members, she said.

The roll call vote to approve the special permit was as follows: Martin V. Tomassian Jr., Nancy Kelly, Nancy Whipple, Carol Grant and John Magnuson.