Judge annuls planning board turf decision

Oak Bluffs officials now have 30 days to decide whether to appeal.

The proposed turf field — Huntress Associates Inc.

A land court judge has issued a final ruling in the lawsuit between the Oak Bluffs planning board and Martha’s VIneyard Regional School District, finding that the board did not have the authority to deny the school’s request to construct a turf field.

The planning board was most recently hoping that the judge would remand the project to the board for further review, so they could potentially look at another location for the turf field, outside of a sensitive environmental area. 

But Judge Kevin T. Smith ruled on Wednesday — the day before Thanksgiving — that the planning board is bound by a Massachusetts law known as the Dover Amendment, which gives special protections to projects with an educational component.

The decision follows a lengthy battle between the high school committee and the planning board, who, in their refusal grant the school a special permit, had cited concerns over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — a class of chemicals dubbed “forever chemicals” that have been detected in artificial turf fields.

On Wednesday, the judge annulled the board’s decision.

The planning board now has 30 days to appeal the most recent decision.

Reached on Wednesday, planning board chair Ewell Hopkins would not speculate on how his fellow board members felt about a possible appeal; they will discuss the issue at a future meeting.

But Hopkins said the ruling is troubling, because the judge has stated that if there are environmental concerns with a project, the planning board has little recourse.

“He has ruled that under zoning legislation, we have no authority. You can like plastic. You can like grass. But with the authority of zoning legislation, you don’t have a dog in the fight as a planning board when there’s an educational component. That amazes me.”

School officials were not immediately reached for comment.


  1. I am bewildered that a member of the planning board would admit publicly that he doesn’t understand the scope of the Dover Amendment which they have been spending taxpayers dollars on fighting on in a town wide farce.

  2. There is an alternative solution now in the market of sport fields, it’s called POWERGrass, a reinforced natural grass carpet system.
    It allows institutions to have a grass pitch which can sustain over 30 hours x week of playing without ruining the grass.

  3. All that wasted time and taxpayer money thrown away on this personal crusade, and in the end it turned out exactly as the Planning Board’s own taxpayer funded attorney predicted it would two years ago.

    At the time, and as reported in this paper, Oak Bluffs select board member Ryan Ruley, speaking in an official capacity, said he is concerned that the review process by the board has “grown out of control.”, and that Hopkins is “too personally involved,” and asked him to recuse himself from the project review. Hopkins declined to do so.

    Do you think he would have pursued this if he were footing the bill personally? Imagine the good things that could have been accomplished with the money wasted on the unlawful permit denial and subsequent legal wrangling.

    In requesting Hopkins’ recusal, Selectperson Ruley stated “I think it would behoove the town and the integrity of the process if that were to happen. I think it’s gotten too convoluted, and it’s tainted no matter what outcome happens.” I have to agree with him on that, and in hindsight I think this episode calls into question the judgment of all members of the OB Planning Board, as they were complicit in allowing this to drag on as long as it did. The only way to mitigate the stink on this is for the other members of the OB Planning Board to act to remove Hopkins as Chair. Leadership defines culture, and the taxpayers are owed some measure of accountability for this fiasco.

  4. Having just traveled for Thanksgiving family and friends always want to know what’s happening in your hometown. When this eight year battle of grass versus turf is discussed the common response has been ridiculous. That may be, but it’s also true Our kids are still the one who suffer. It is no longer a fight about grass vs turf it is a fight about egos and shows the worst of our society today. But let’s keep fighting this dead dog and wasting taxpayers money on an issue that was decided by the MVC many years ago. Why do we spend millions of tax dollars on the MVC if we are not going to listen to them? Anyone who follows their decisions, know how exhausting, they look at issues to the point of overkill. As always, the lawyers, make the money and the taxpayers suffers. Oak Bluffs reminds me of a local family that is known for bringing frivolous lawsuits to court and delays well needed projects for years. They also keep appealing judges decisions to the point of Ludacris.

    • Don’t forget because they hadn’t started construction within 2 years of the decision it must go back to the MVC for review again!

    • Bob, this is the fault of democracy. If the the island had one strong leader we would have had a plastic, or grass, field 6 years ago.
      This is what happens when you let a bunch of people make decisions for all.
      This kind of decision should be made by one person, a true patriot, not necessarily a Veteran. .

  5. Town disappoints? Trying to protect water
    U drink? WoW people caring for the health of others?School is looking to buy commercial land for parking ?Whose disappointing?if they ever get the new and improved field? Got to get new approvals on plans? As they don’t have a place for the construction phase.The enemy of good is better.Traffic so easy to navigate on Edg/VH rd.,Just add a few hundred displaced vehicles.See they plan on using bus lot to stage soils and equipment?
    Talk to folks who are dropping kids off at new VH elementary? Forget about Sanderson can’t have equipment flying around roads new drivers use liabilities huge.Oh going to take out trees , new neighbors will love that !and fence tar electrical , oh that 40K spent on 2 electric bus chargers,ripped out and bathrooms for drivers? More Permits? The school has spent
    1/2 million in porta potties?Who is wasting money?Who is watching over health and safety of children?Oh where are kids going to have their games and practices? Not going to be walking across street?
    Oh more bus rides.Where is your disappointment going next?

  6. It is my understanding now that the judge has made his final decision all parties will no longer appeal and add to the taxpayers, this legal burden.
    I also believe that if the Board of Health really was interested in getting into this, they should have a long time ago. If they had the power to stop this process and save money for their town should they not have done it. Instead, their decision to wait for the judges decision, wait for the JUDGES DeCISION!!!! if PFAS is the big monster “they” claim it is, would they not want to put it down ASAP. Anything they do now is RETALIATORY .

      • In no way would I suggest the voters are disingenuous. I will state that if the OB BOH had a genuine fear/ worry about PFAS, they would have used the powers they have, a long long time ago. Instead they are being reactionary. There in lies why they are disingenuous, not candid or sincere in their conviction.

  7. This proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the OB Planning Board Chair was biased toward this project, and as Ryan Ruley requested, he should have recused himself saving thousands and thousands of dollars. He was warned by his counsel but ignored it. Now, I bet, he is working with the board of health to try to get this denied through their board. Just speculation, but one would have to suspect that he colluded with the building inspector to ask to require a special permit and now will do the same with the BOH. More the back room actions that can’t be proven. His actions are beyond acceptable and Tina is right, this will be a bad look for the board of health. After a ruling by the court that this project it is well within the Dover Amendment to be built. Please BOH don’t follow the planning board’s lead. You have NO basis for your moratorium. You need facts, not scare tactics and speculation.
    You have ZERO science behind your moratorium idea. You have many more proven sources of PFAS to address and this field isn’t one of them. You have plenty of facts saying it won’t harm the aquifer, facts bought and paid for by taxpayers. As a taxpayer, I do not want another board of mine to ignore the $50K worth of testing you made me pay for. Do the right thing, follow the science and put this idea of yours in the garbage where it belongs and approve the field for our kids.

  8. Dear MV Community-
    Thankfully the laws are clear and empower the Boards of Health to take all precautions when it comes to drinking water and a protected water zone . Read for yourself.


    We have much work to do in future conservation, restoration and regulations to eliminate plastics and pollutants from leaching in and eroding our natural resources.
    Our schools ,community facilities and local zoning must be examples of best practices locally and globally. The future depends on our leaders standing by these tenets.
    The outdated Dover was translated – that is all. 2+ acres of plastic to replace grass didn’t exist when the Dover was created . How many man made products have caused natural resources and illness ? Too many to count .

  9. Court just states planning board could not restrict,because of a case that courts ruled on before, time creates new cases . BOH works with the state playbook /code book.Not sure BOH is trying to look good or bad , it’s the authority in a town.
    They didn’t get voted in ,they studied and took State tests, little different than voting.

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