Oak Bluffs South Woods Farm subdivision sold for $5.15 million

Auctioneer JJ Manning read the details of the sale as Mike Patten, wearing a black sweater, and Harry Patten, seated in the background, looked on. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

South Woods Farm, the last remnant of the failed Down Island golf club, sold at auction Friday noon to Paul Adamson, a Boston area developer and Edgartown home owner, for $5,150,000. The sale was fast paced and not without drama.

Justin Manning, president of JJ Manning Auctioneers, began the bidding of the failed Kupersmith development off County Road in Oak Bluffs under a tent set up against the backdrop of a pond, now just a sandy crater, that was to have been the centerpiece of an equestrian-themed subdivision of 26 luxury home on 90 contoured acres in the midst of oak trees and pitch pines.

Patten Companies, a family-owned network of companies based in Williamstown with a long history and national track record of purchasing failed developments, precipitated the sale after it purchased the mortgage from the bank that was left holding the property once owned by Corey Kupersmith of Greenwich, Conn.

MIke Patten and his father Harry Patten were on hand for the foreclosure auction. Their plan was to sell the property in its entirety — if the bidding met their expectation — or bid on the property, essentially buy it from themselves, then sell the 20 available residential lots and 2 open space lots individually.

Approximately 80 people were present. Many were curious about the fate of a property that was once the focus of a bitter land battle.

The auction speedily progressed. Auctioneer JJ Manning asked, “Can I get an opening bid of eight million, eight is what I’d like, can I get the eight now?”

Hearing no eight, he said, “We can roll this down.” He asked for $7 million. There were no takers.

“All right, we’ll get it started now,” he said. “Five million dollars is what I’ve got now.”

From a chair outside the tent came a “Hey,” from Harry Patten.

“I’ve got a five million dollar bid now,” Mr. Manning said.

He pressed for $6 million, then $5.5 million. As Mr. Manning urged a higher bid Mr. Patten said, “JJ, sell it.”

Mr. Manning withheld his gavel as he looked expectedly at a group of men standing on the hillside outside the tent that included Mr. Adamson. There was a brief pause.

“Alright I’ve got a five million dollar bid, do I hear the five-five now,” Mr. Manning said. From the hillside came a shout, “five one fifty.”

Mr. Manning continued to press.

“J.J. sell it,” Mr. Patten said emphatically.

With one final call for bids and none forthcoming, the deal was done. One beneficiary of the sale will be Oak Bluffs, which will now receive approximately $350,000 in back taxes. The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank will receive a 2 percent transfer fee.

Michael Patten, chief executive officer of Patten Companies, told The Times he was pleased with the sale. He said the price was fair and it made sense to sell the property in its entirety to people with a connection to the Island.

Oak Bluffs seasonal homeowner Chris Sage, one of the partners in the purchase, is the son-in-law of Richard Combra, the former well respected Oak Bluffs selectman and a backer of the golf course project. Mr. Combra said he heard about the sale and introduced Paul Adamson, a close family friend, to the property and Mr. Adamson liked what he saw.

Mr. Adamson plans to market the lots individually or in groups, Mr. Combra said, but has no plans to build houses or create an equestrian theme.

South Woods Farm was the remnant of the dream Corey Kupersmith of Greenwich, Conn. once held of developing a golf course in Oak Bluffs on a swath of land now known as the Southern Woodlands. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), the Island’s powerful regional permitting body, dashed that dream. Now it will be up to the new buyer to realize his vision for the property.

Among the spectators Friday was Brian Lafferty, at one time Mr. Kupersmith’s point man in his ferocious verbal and legal battle with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Mr. Lafferty said he came to watch the sale because it represented something of a last chapter. “I wish these guys all the luck in the world,” Mr. Lafferty said. “It was good for the seller and good for the buyer. They bought it at a price that allows them to do it right.”

Mr. Lafferty said he was proud of the original subdivision plan, which incorporated open space, woodlands and views. “This certainly has the potential to be one of the best subdivisions on the Island,” he said.

Golf war history

The sale marked the final chapter in the saga of the effort to build a new golf course in Oak Bluffs that began when the 88-acre Webb’s Camping Area, part of approximately 400 acres of land now referred to as the Southern Woodlands, went on the market.

The camping area had been for sale for years. An offer by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank was refused, and in 1998 a golf course development company announced that it had an option to purchase the property.

Webb’s abutted property the course developers needed for their project. The town of Oak Bluffs was one of dozens of landowners of private landlocked parcels, many with unclear titles.

The company went to work clearing titles and acquiring more parcels. When their efforts stalled, Mr. Kupersmith, a wealthy golf enthusiast and pharmacy entrepreneur from Greenwich, Conn., took over until he owned some 280 acres.

Mr. Kupersmith approached the town and MVC officials with a plan to develop an 18-hole golf course, and offered a benefit package he thought would be eagerly embraced. At one point the development included public walking trails, payments in lieu of taxes, an offer to lease a portion of the former Webb’s Camping Area to the town at no cost for camping, and a permanent conservation restriction over the entire property.

At the same time, two groups of rival developers were engaged in their own efforts to build golf clubs. The backers of the Meeting House Golf Club adjacent to Edgartown Pond ultimately gave up following MVC rejection of their plan, and joined with backers of the Vineyard Golf Club, built on the site of a failed 148-house subdivision off Edgartown–West Tisbury Road.

Land Bank held the key

In March 2005, capping years of fierce controversy over Mr. Kupersmith’s various development proposals, which included MVC rejection of three successive applications, and numerous lawsuits filed against the commission, the Land Bank, Mr. Kupersmith, and the MVC concluded a deal under which Mr. Kupersmith agreed to sell 190 acres of the Southern Woodlands to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank for $18.6 million, contingent on MVC approval of his subdivision.

The luxury housing development was 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 agreement included a provision under which the Land Bank would swap a 24-acre rectangular town-owned lot, known as the “doughnut hole” because it was landlocked, for “more convenient acreage located elsewhere in the Southern Woodlands, contingent on town meeting approval.”

Despite a 2004 written agreement, the land swap has yet to happen. The potential sale of the Kupersmith development does not involve any parcels in the land swap agreement.

Construction began with two model homes, but was halted after Mr. Kupersmith’s financial foundation fell apart.

In 2012, Farlap Development Corp., the original development company controlled by Mr. Kupersmith, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The mortgage, valued at almost $5 million, reverted to People’s United Bank of Connecticut, which repeatedly offered to sell its right, title, and interest in the property. Foreclosure auctions were scheduled and rescheduled due to Mr. Kupersmith’s legal entanglements. Then the Pattens stepped in.