Three years after the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen voted to complete a land swap with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank on a piece of property known as the “doughnut hole,” our reporter Brian Dowd set out to find out why it stalled — again.
Shining that light on the proposed deal appears to have reignited the interest in completing the deal between the two parties. Less than a week after we published the story, the Land Bank Commission added an item to its agenda under “new business” — a delightful bit of irony there — and approved an intergovernmental agreement that seeks to seal the deal by eliminating at least one of the conditions that stood in the way.
As a bit of background, not as much as the extensive reporting of Dowd, the doughnut hole deal dates back to 2005. At the time, golf enthusiast and pharmacy entrepreneur Corey Kupersmith, who had attempted to develop an 18-hole golf course, agreed to sell Southern Woodlands to the Land Bank for $18.6 million. That agreement included the Oak Bluffs and Land Bank swap provision. The parcel was nicknamed the doughnut hole because the 24-acre parcel the town would give to the Land Bank is landlocked, with no access to public roads. In exchange, the town would get a newly-carved-out 24 acres adjacent to eight acres that Oak Bluffs already owns on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road — a site under consideration for affordable housing because of its close proximity to regional services like the YMCA, high school, and M.V. Community Services, as well as public transportation.
It’s the proverbial win-win. So what took so long?
Through the years, the waters have gotten as muddied as Beach Road flooding after a nor’easter.
A separate land deal in 2001 has come into play. The Land Bank purchased a 15-acre parcel and a 22-acre parcel along County Road, both next to the Southern Woodlands property. While those parcels were originally deeded to the town as open space in 2000, the person who deeded the land didn’t have title to it. The Land Bank eventually purchased the property from the title holders, but the Land Bank was never recorded as the owner on town assessor maps. That’s key, because the Land Bank as a nonprofit is exempt from property taxes, but with no change on the assessors’ map, a tax lien was placed on the property.
All of that appeared to be cleared up in 2018, when the board of selectmen approved a change of ownership and waived those back taxes. But despite the vote, the change in the assessors’ records never occurred.
This time it was the town that put the land deal on hold, because of a separate agreement between the Land Bank and the Oak Bluffs Water District about a public water supply sandwiched between the County Road parcels.
In its latest iteration, the Land Bank has agreed not to include that County Road parcel until the town figures out its water supply planning.
Both the town and the commission deserve some blame in the plodding pace of these negotiations. Only two letters have gone between the two government entities since that 2018 vote. That’s not negotiating. That’s playing out the clock.
And there’s a fair bit of incompetence at play here. The town accepted land without clear title, came up with a plan for the Land Bank to purchase that land from the owner who did hold title, and then didn’t properly record the Land Bank as the proper owner of record for years.
Ultimately, both the town and Land Bank need to remember that what they do should be in the public interest. The ball is now in the town’s court, and we see no reason why they shouldn’t act quickly on the Land Bank’s compromise, and send this land swap off to the state legislature for final approval.
Once it’s finalized, let’s hope it doesn’t take another 16 years for the town to move on its promise to use this land to help ease the affordable housing crisis on the Island. Enough time has been wasted.