As proposals for golf courses begin to pile up on the Island, the Sheriff's Meadow Foundation released a white paper last week that among other things explains the reasoning behind a decision to oppose a golf course development on the MacKenty land in Edgartown, but not oppose a similar proposal for the Vineyard Acres II subdivision.

"A golf course at Vineyard Acres II — especially the right kind of course — would have far less environmental and ecological impact than the 148 houses that are allowed under the subdivision plan," the paper states in part.

The foundation owns four building lots in the Vineyard Acres II subdivision. Four months ago, Sheriff's Meadow signed an agreement to sell its lots to Swanson Ventures L.L.C., which plans to build an 18-hole private golf club on the property.

The agreement is complex, but in simple terms it gives the foundation oversight over the golf course development, with a special eye toward protecting both an ecologically rare 45-acre frostbottom and the Dr. Daniel Fisher Road on the property, if the option is exercised. The frostbottom is managed by Sheriff's Meadow under a complex set of restrictive covenants for the open space areas in the subdivision.

The position paper released last week explains that the option agreement gives the foundation "absolute control over any and all development, use and management" of some areas at Vineyard Acres II, including the frostbottom.

Total sale price for the four lots is $310,000. The foundation has already received $10,000 to secure the option and it will collect another $15,000, which will be used to hire independent consultants to review the Swanson Ventures plan when it is complete.

Signed in February, the option agreement runs for two years. If the option is exercised, the agreement gives the foundation a strong say in the final development plans for the golf project.

Leaders for the foundation said last week that they are extremely comfortable in their position.

"Pick 148 houses or a golf course," said foundation vice president Ralph Graves. "There is going to be a golf course and the thing to do is to pick the best site for it," he added. "I am confident that if a golf course is done right, we can protect the ecological factors — and especially the ecological factors of the frostbottom and also the Dr. Fisher Road," Mr. Graves said.

Sheriff's Meadow has been entangled with Vineyard Acres II for many years. In 1986, the foundation won a land court ruling upholding a complicated title claim to some 39 acres in the middle of the subdivision. The foundation later sold the land to the TRW Title Insurance Company for $950,000 in 1992.

But even though the land was sold, the foundation retained a number of rights associated with protecting certain parts of the property. In recent months the decision was made to sell the last four lots, but that decision was contingent on the foundation's ability to continue to protect the environment on the property.

"We have always been involved with Vineyard Acres II," said Henry Tilghman, who is a foundation board member and past president. "Sheriff's Meadow is responsible and we have had to look at the whole Vineyard and say where is it going — if we don't get it right, we are in trouble."

The position paper also emphasizes that the money from the sale of the four lots will go toward buying more conservation land.

Foundation leaders underscored the point.

"This decision does have a conservation purpose and there is no ambiguity on that point," said foundation executive director Dick Johnson. "Anybody who is going to give us land in the future should know that we don't sell land unless people say it can be sold," he added.

Leaders were also quick to say that while they have taken an open position against the project on the MacKenty land, they have not yet endorsed the Vineyard Acres II project.

The position paper concludes: "Sheriff's Meadow Foundation has not yet endorsed and cannot yet endorse the Swanson Ventures golf course... [The foundation] has not yet seen the Swanson Ventures design and management plan, nor does it yet know how many houses the Swanson Ventures plan will include along with its golf courses.

"But Sheriff's Meadow Foundation's decision and its option agreement do reflect our belief that Vineyard Acres II is the most appropriate site for a golf course."