Showdown looms over Southern Woodlands subdivision plan

Buyer threatens legal action if the Oak Bluffs planning board puts on the brakes.

A sign at the property entrance of the moribund South Wood Farms subdivision provides a glimpse of the original vision. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The June 26 auction and sale of the South Woods Farm, the long-stalled 26-lot subdivision in Oak Bluffs, appeared to be the final chapter in a long and divisive battle over the failed Kupersmith Down Island Golf club that ended in 2004 when the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank agreed to purchase 180 acres for $18.6 million, creating the Southern Woodlands property; the Martha’s Vineyard Commission signed off on the subdivision plan; and Corey Kupersmith stopped suing and left the Island.

However, the legal drama might not be over.

Members of the Oak Bluffs planning board have questioned whether the subdivision permit remains in force, and suggested the new owners might have to begin the permitting process anew. Lawyer Michelle Manning, in-house counsel for buyers NLP Finance, which foreclosed on the property and auctioned it off to Paul Adamson, a Boston-area developer and Edgartown home owner, with the provision that all permitting ducks would be in a row, addressed that possibility in a letter dated July 6, addressed to the planning board and planning board lawyer Daniel Perry.

“We understand from speaking with some of our local representatives that there is a feeling among some or all of the [OBPB] members that rescinding the subdivision permit for the Southern Woodlands project is a legal option for the Board and one they are planning to pursue,” Ms. Manning wrote.

Ms. Manning said it would not be “a legally viable option for the town” or “beneficial for the residents of Oak Bluffs.”

Ms. Manning said that the subdivision permit is still valid, and provided a list of reasons underpinning her view. She noted that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) had already approved the permit, that a large tract of the property had already been sold to the Land Bank as a condition of the permit, that “payment to the Town of Oak Bluffs was received and spent,” and that the subdivision infrastructure — roads, drainage, and utilities — is virtually complete.

The town of Oak Bluffs stands to gain $350,000 in back taxes from the $5.15 million sale. However, if the planning board voids the permit, NLP Finance said it would argue the town had been improperly taxing the property.

Ms. Manning said if the OBPB abrogates the subdivision permit, it would cause NLP Finance “significant financial harm, and we would seek appropriate redress.

“We believe there is substantial interest in the lots in Southern Woodlands and that the sales and building activity it will generate will be a great financial benefit to the town of Oak Bluffs,” Ms. Manning concluded. “Continued litigation of this matter would appear to be in the best interest of no one.”

“The goal isn’t to stop the project; we just want the opportunity to properly review it,” OBPB Chairman Brian Packish told The Times. “It’s the largest piece of open space we have left. We’re planning for an area of town that’s very different than it was in 2002. We have a newly enacted Lagoon Pond overlay district, and nitrogen mitigation has to be discussed. It also sits over our largest aquifer, and the Water District has interest in putting a well there.” Mr. Packish said affordable housing has also not been addressed, and that the Land Bank also has some interest in buying part of the property.

“It sure seems like there’s a much larger conversation to have in 2015 than there was in 2002,” he said. “I think in the eyes of anyone that’s invested in this community, that should seem more than fair.”

The OBPB will meet in the downstairs meeting room in town hall at 5 pm on Thursday, July 9.