Town grounds Chappy heliport developer
There will be no helicopter commutes for Chappaquiddick property owner William S. O'Connell. In a letter dated July 27, the Edgartown zoning officer told the Quincy-based developer he could not legally use his property as a landing site.
According to town officials, Mr. O'Connell recently clear-cut a portion of a one-acre lot he owns on Sandy Road, adjacent to the one-acre lot on which he owns a house. Mr. O'Connell intended to use the lot next to the one on which he lives to land his helicopter.
But what really has town officials and some residents of the isolated island buzzing is the fact that Mr. O'Connell is one of 10 plaintiffs who went to court to block the construction of affordable housing on three one-acre lots in the same eight-lot subdivision in which he owns a house. Among other arguments, Mr. O'Connell and his fellow plaintiffs said that development of the affordable housing lots would disturb the natural habitat and wildlife.
"It's appalling," said Janet Hathaway, chairman of the Edgartown resident homesite committee and a Chappaquiddick resident. "What else can you say?"
William S. O'Connell clear-cut this lot to make a helicopter landing area. He is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit that argues that the construction of affordable housing in the same subdivision would damage critical habitat. Photos courtesy town of Edgartown
In his letter to Mr. O'Connell and The 36 Carlson Street Limited Partnership that Mr. O'Connell controls, Leonard Jason, Jr., town building inspector and zoning officer, reviews his understanding of the facts. "You have clear-cut an area of land approximately 100 feet by 106 feet on the above-described property; that as of July 10, 2007, a sign was posted on the property stating "Heliport;" and that there is now a windsock on the property.... I am also advised that you have landed or intend to land a helicopter on the property."
Mr. Jason told Mr. O'Connell, "The use of residential property on Chappaquiddick as a helicopter landing site is prohibited by the Edgartown zoning by-laws... this letter constitutes a formal cease and desist order directing you to not use your property, or your abutting property, as a helicopter landing site."
A sign erected on the property.
Mr. O'Connell is part of a group of 10 plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in September 2005, to block the construction of three houses on three affordable one-acre housing lots on Sandy Road, off of Litchfield Road.
Edgartown zoning bylaws prohibit building on lots less than three acres in size on Chappaquiddick. However, a special bylaw designed to promote affordable housing allows the zoning board of appeals (ZBA) to issue special permits to potential homeowners who meet certain income, residency, and age requirements, allowing homebuilding on substandard lots.
Along with the issue of density, the plaintiffs argued that the ZBA should have considered whether the proposed residential construction would have a negative impact on protected or endangered species, including certain varieties of moths, before issuing permits.
In a motion filed on April 11, 2006, intended to keep one of the would-be homeowners from cutting any trees on his property, the plaintiffs lawyer, Ellen B. Kaplan, wrote, "A significant amount of trees and undergrowth has recently been cut down on some of the properties, thereby disturbing the natural habitat and environmental conditions. Plaintiffs believe that continued alteration of the properties by cutting and removing trees and undergrowth and ground cover will have an adverse effect on the species they support and will prejudice the plaintiffs interests."
The plaintiffs' arguments in support of protecting habitat and Mr. O'Connell's cutting for his planned heliport are the subject of a footnote included as part of Mr. Jason's cease and desist letter.
"I am constrained," wrote Mr. Jason, "to note that you are one of the plaintiffs in an action brought in the Land Court appealing a decision of the ZBA granting special permits for three affordable housing lots in the same 8-lot subdivision in which your house and your helicopter landing area is located. You argued to the Land Court, and following an unfavorable decision against you, to the Appeals Court, that this particular area contained unique habitat and that each of the proposed affordable housing dwellings required extensive environmental review. While the issues raised in that action are not relevant to the cease and desist order, the clearing of the landing area is contradictory with the position which you and the other plaintiffs have taken in the pending litigation."
Ron Rappaport, Edgartown town counsel, represents the town in the continuing lawsuit. "I think in this case, the facts speak for themselves," he said Tuesday.
Mr. O'Connell did not return a message left at his Marina Bay Management office in Quincy on Monday. Ms. Kaplan did not return a message left with her office late Tuesday.
Waiting to build
The protracted battle began when the ZBA approved three special permits, and the Edgartown resident homesite committee qualified Andrea DelloRusso and Luke Riordan, Joe Spagnuolo and Cheryl Herrick, and Clinton Fisher to purchase the lots.
In September 2005, 10 seasonal and year-round Chappaquiddick residents, (George Mellendick, James Williams, William O'Connell, Paul Wales, Robert and Cheryl Finkelstein, Frank and Karen Gazarian, Cornelia Dean, and Lionel Spiro) asked the Land Court to overturn the ZBA decision.
In a summary judgment, dated June 22, 2006, Land Court judge Gordon H. Piper rejected the plaintiffs' arguments.
In September the plaintiffs appealed.
The defendants in the case are the six members of the ZBA, the lot recipients, and the Island Housing Trust Corporation, which owned one of the lots.
Last September, time ran out for Mr. Spagnuolo and Ms. Herrick, when the purchase and sales agreement for $40,000 they signed with Juanita B. Vickers of Melbourne, FL., owner of all the Sandy Road lots in question, expired.
Soon after that Robert S. Finkelstein and Cheryl Finkelstein of Marblehead, two of the plaintiffs and abutters, purchased the lot for $287,900.
As part of that arrangement, Ms. Vickers sold Mr. Spagnuolo and Ms. Herrick another lot on 24 Jason Drive for $40,000. The couple received a special permit and are proceeding with plans to build a house, according to town records.
Mr. Fisher was not available for comment on the status of his lot, which he bought from Ms. Vickers in May 2005 for $40,000, according to a Registry of Deeds filing. According to town records he has a well in and has received a septic system permit.
Andrea DelloRusso and Luke Riordan, the couple selected for the lot owned by the Island Housing Trust, are living in a rented house on Chappaquiddick while they wait for a decision in the appeal.