OAK BLUFFS — At foreclosure auctions on Martha’s Vineyard, the bidders and gawkers pull up in Jaguars, Range Rovers, and Porsches.
On Friday, a crowd of more than 100, dressed in pressed jeans and shorts and sporting early summer tans, milled among the scrub oaks and dandelions.
Some had come in the hopes of picking up a few acres on the island retreat for a bargain. Even more came to watch the conclusion of what has been a 15-year-old, divisive drama involving some 50 acres that were initially envisioned as a luxury golf course development and then an equestrian center, before ending up in bankruptcy court.
“The ins and outs, and ups and downs, and misunderstandings have been incredible,” said Dick Pratt, a real estate broker with the Island Group in Edgartown. “It has been an epic. This is a step in the right direction.”
A group of Quincy developers, headed by Paul Adamson, who owns Shenannigans Irish Pub & Restaurant in South Boston, and Assembly, a Quincy restaurant, won the bidding for the property, which includes 20 residential parcels, two with partially built manors. Adamson and his partners offered $5.2 million, plus expenses such as back taxes — slightly more than the $4.9 million owed to creditors.
The Adamson group was one of 19 bidders — five who wanted to buy the property as a whole and 14 who wanted to buy individual lots. Adamson said five of the lots will be developed with homes for friends and family members, many of them longtime visitors to Martha’s Vineyard. The rest will be sold to those who want — and can afford — to live on an island that has served as a getaway for presidents and movie stars.
“We’re looking to move forward,” Adamson said.
So are local residents and politicians.
For years, the property has had an uncertain future. Located next to the Farm Neck Golf Course, where presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have teed off, it has been a prize in a tug-of-war pitting those who wanted to preserve the land for open space and walking trails against those who wanted to build on the Vineyard’s reputation as a summer playground for the wealthy.
Corey A. Kupersmith, a former medical journal publisher from Greenwich, Conn., bought 350 acres in the late 1990s. An avid golfer, Kupersmith wanted to build another 18-hole course development on the land because of the high demand for tee times.
But conservation groups opposed his plans, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, a planning agency, rejected his proposals three times in two years, a period that locals refer to as the Golf Course Wars.
Kupersmith spent years negotiating and battling with locals. He promised to open the course to the public and set aside some land for a sewage treatment plant. He and his business partners also filed lawsuits, warned they would put up low-income housing, and threatened to
clear-cut the land. One of Kupersmith’s associates posed for photos with a chain saw after cutting down hundreds of pitch pines.
“It got sordid and ugly,” said Peter Fyler, a buyers agent with SplitRock Real Estate, LLC.
Eventually, in 2005, Kupersmith sold 190 acres to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank for preservation, and the island’s planning agencies agreed to let him build on part of the property. Kupersmith nixed the golf course plan and instead planned to build a subdivision around an equestrian center with a horse barn and riding trails.
Crews began construction of two homes, but the economy, along with Kupersmith’s finances, collapsed in 2008. Kupersmith and the group developing the property filed for bankruptcy, according to court records.
Connecticut-based People’s United Bank, which had a $4.9 million loan on the property, tried to auction it off in 2012 and again last year. But legal issues sidelined those plans.
NLP Finance LLC, a development group from Williamstown, bought the bank note this year. The company cleaned up the property to appeal to potential bidders, removing broken glass from the windows of the unfinished houses and flattening piles of dirt and stumps around a giant pit that was intended as a pond.
Kupersmith could not be reached for comment. But on Friday, many at the auction recalled his time on the island and wondered out loud what had become of him.
Richard Combra, a former Oak Bluffs selectman and real-estate sales agent who is working with the property’s new owners, said the project took its toll on Kupersmith. “He fought a battle,” Combra said. “All he wanted to do was build a golf course.”
Despite the sale, issues involving public access to walking trails and the money developers are supposed to set aside for affordable housing still must be resolved, said Fred J. Hancock, chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
“We want them to work with us and settle these issues,” Hancock said.