Second bite of the apple

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The Oak Bluffs Planning Board may be biting off more than it can chew in seeking to take another bite — a very large bite — out of the permit the board issued in 2004 for the 26-lot subdivision that formed the cornerstone of an agreement that ended years of bitter and costly battle over the Down Island Golf Club.

As reporter Barry Stringfellow reports this week, the planning board wants to renegotiate and amend the terms of the development permit to extract a larger affordable housing contribution, and has threatened to void the permit, based on the advice of its lawyer Daniel Perry that it has the authority to do so, on the grounds that the permit conditions have not been met.

The seller, National Land Partners (NLP), a subsidiary of Patten Companies, a family-owned network of companies based in Williamstown with a long history and national track record of successfully financing, selling, developing, and marketing recreational and residential properties in rural locations across the country, disagrees with that view. The permit is valid, NLP insists, and it promises a legal tidal wave should the planning board carry out its threat.

Mark London, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), no pushover when it comes to extracting affordable housing contributions from developers, takes the view that the permit remains valid.

Some members of the planning board, and their passengers who have hopped on the bandwagon with additional demands, ignore the context for a subdivision that may rightly be viewed as 26 houses on 270 acres.

Fairness requires retracing some history. Beginning in 2000, for four years Corey Kupersmith of Connecticut tried unsuccessfully to build a championship 18-hole golf course and club on a portion of property he had acquired that we now refer to as the Southern Woodlands. After three separate golf proposals failed to to win the approval of the MVC, despite wide support in Oak Bluffs, he proposed to build a massive housing development, exempt from local regulations under the state’s 40B affordable housing statute, as a way to strike back at his opponents. And he sued — eight lawsuits in all.

All eyes turned to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank to help end the battle.

Then Oak Bluffs Selectman Todd Rebello initially put together a deal under which the Land Bank was to purchase the entire 270 acres for approximately $26 million. That fell through when private donors proved unwilling to contribute $5 million in needed funds.

A “mixed use” plan that included both conservation and some development was the solution. In March 2004 the Land Bank reached an agreement with Mr. Kupersmith to buy 190 acres Mr. Kupersmith owned for $18.63 million.

That deal went hand in hand with a 26-unit luxury housing development, dubbed the Preserve at the Woodlands, intended to bridge the financial gap between what the Land Bank was willing to pay, that is approximately $100,000 per acre, and Mr. Kupersmith’s asking price of $26 million.

The five Oak Bluffs selectmen at the time voted unanimously to support the deal.

The MVC unanimously approved the deal with less than a dozen conditions, all offered by Mr. Kupersmith. Affordable housing groups asked for more money from the developer for affordable housing efforts. However, MVC members said the proposal provided adequate funding for affordable housing.

In January 2005 the Oak Bluffs planning board voted unanimously to approve the subdivision plan for the Preserve at the Woodlands, along with a list of conditions and small changes.

“It was time to bring harmony back to Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Kupersmith said at the time the deal was announced.

As part of the deal, the Land Bank agreed to a land swap with the town of Oak Bluffs for a 24-acre lot without access for a “more convenient acreage located elsewhere in the southern woodlands.”

Ten years later, the swap has yet to be consummated. There has been no shortage of finger-pointing as to the cause.

Rather than stumbling into a lawsuit, the planning board ought to devote energy and taxpayer dollars to completing the swap and finding the right developer to build much-needed multiunit affordable rental housing, and allow an upscale development to proceed that will provide tax dollars to the town and a continuing source of jobs for Island residents, in the construction, maintenance, and upkeep of those homes.

Certainly, any additional contributions the planning board seeks to wring out of the seller and buyer of a property that has languished far too long would soon be dwarfed by the legal bills taxpayers would be expected to pay to defend the planning board’s actions.