After being denied a Coastal Zone Management permit in September, developers of the proposed Cowgirl Bebop floating restaurant have appealed to the Board of Land Use Appeals, arguing that the volunteer board members erred by not following staff recommendations to approve the permit. They also argued the decision was “arbitrary and capricious,” and that the Coastal Zone Management Commission should have given more weight to the economic benefit of the proposed business.
Cowgirl Bebop filed its appeal to BLUA on Oct. 16, according to a release from the developers sent by former Sen. Janette Millin Young.
Company officials are seeking approval to moor the vessel near Mingo Cay and Grass Cay as a destination to eat and drink. Also requested is the approval to install eight moorings for guests to place their boats without anchoring. The vessel is about 120 feet long and 40 feet wide.
During a July public hearing on the permit, attorney Adriane Dudley said the business is expected to generate 30 jobs directly and another 70 indirectly. Cowgirl Bebop will not participate in the territory’s tax incentive programs and will contribute to the tax base by paying income taxes, gross receipts taxes and payroll taxes, Dudley said at the time.
In the Nov. 4 release about the appeal, company officials emphasized environmentally friendly aspects of the plan.
“We have shared that the vessel will be mostly solar-powered and eco-friendly with no discharges as it is will be equipped with holding tanks for septic and gray-water wastes,” Alex Golubitsky said in the release. Golubitsky is an attorney and the official Cowgirl Bebop spokesman.
“We also maintain in our appeal to BLUA that the committee’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, and that it strayed far away from the staff’s careful evaluation which favored granting Bebop’s Coastal Zone Management permit request,” he continued.
“Our team has been fully aware from the inception of filing for the major permit that the commissioners were not in favor of the project moving forward within their jurisdiction. We are, however, grateful that the members all agreed on the record at its decision meeting in September that they liked the concept presented of the floating lounge. Therefore, we had hoped that they would have approved our request understanding the benefits to the territory’s economic growth at a time when the Virgin Islands needs it most.”
Golubitsky said Coastal Zone Management Commission members “failed to appropriately weigh the goals of the territory to protect, maintain and preserve its coastal zone.” According to him, “in fact, by law, it is the responsibility of the regulatory body to promote economic development and growth in a balanced conservational use of our natural resources. Bebop is employing a well-rounded group of professionals as we seek to provide a safe, environmentally sound and attractive product that will make us all proud to showcase in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The Coastal Zone Management Commission has legal authority over permits and over most aspects of Coastal Zone Management policy that are not explicitly determined by statute. At the same time, V.I. law gives an automatic right of an appeal to the Board of Land Use Appeals, saying explicitly that “any aggrieved person may file an appeal of an action by the Commission.”
Public commenters at hearings and Coastal Zone Management Commission members who opposed the plan raised concerns about the potential for dangerously rough waters at the proposed site and a lack of a comprehensive statutory regulatory framework for an increasing number of proposals for floating bars and restaurants.
In September, St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee member Rafe Boulon said the environmental assessment provided by the developers lacks detail and does not thoroughly address the interaction of wind, waves and currents.
It was also said that in the late 1980s, three boy scouts drowned in a boating accident near the location proposed for Cowgirl Bebop when an unexpected swell overturned their dinghy.
The developers said in the event of anticipated foul weather, Cowgirl Bebop will be towed to a more sheltered location that has not yet been determined.
They also plan to put Cowgirl Bebop in dry dock from August through October when storm season is most active.
For safety reasons, the developers said they will discourage customers from diving off the vessel or swimming from other boats to Cowgirl Bebop. But Golubitsky said at the time that they “don’t have the ability to prohibit people from swimming. All we can do is refuse to serve them.”
Of the location, St. John CZM Commissioner Andrew Penn said, “This is an extremely pristine area. We don’t have many of these now. They need to be protected more seriously at this time.”