While the controversy for a marina proposed by the Summer’s End Group continues to flare up, the developer of another marina proposed for Coral Bay is seeking public input for its own design, which has been in the works since 2007.
“Summer’s End is not the only game in town; we are the alternative to Summer’s End,” said Rory Calhoun, the managing member of Sirius Development LLC.
The Sirius Marina project, also known as the T-Rex or Moravian Church project, is designed to accommodate 89 boats, but is “subject to modification as we progress and get input from agencies and the community,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun recently sent out a news release asking community members to provide feedback on Sirius Development’s plans to build a marina on the northern shore of Coral Bay harbor and an adjacent 89-unit condominium development. The complex would be built on nearly 11 acres of shoreline property, including “the flats,” located across the road from the Emmaus Moravian Church in Coral Bay. Comments can be sent to [email protected]
Marina Plan Is One Of Two Proposed for Coral Bay
The Sirius Marina plan includes the construction of bulkhead, concrete and floating docks, a fuel dock with tanks, boat service area, wastewater treatment facility, sewage pump-out facilities, a generator, a retail complex and a two-level parking deck for 60 cars.
The 89-slip Sirius Marina, designed to berth vessels ranging from 30 to 70 feet, would have a significantly smaller footprint than the marina designed by Summer’s End Group, which would be located across the harbor on the southern shore of Coral Bay.
Plans for the Yacht Club at Summer’s End (also known as the St. John Marina) calls for the construction of 144 slips, 10 of which can accommodate mega yachts of 150 feet or more in length, and land-based development for shops, restaurants and supporting infrastructure.
In its most recent form, the Sirius Marina plan was introduced to the St. John community during a series of meetings in 2014 and 2015. Towards the end of those meetings, an application for the marina (but not the condominiums) was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but has since remained on inactive status.
The plan for the condominium portion was not included with the marina application to the Army Corps, partly because of a rezoning matter that was not resolved until the end of 2016.
Calhoun said Sirius Development decided to send the application first to the Army Corps, rather than to local agencies, including the territory’s Coastal Zone Management Division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, “because the marina portion will customarily take longer than the upland portion.”
Calhoun said Sirius Development will submit an application for a major water use permit (for the marina) and a separate major land use permit application (for the condominiums) to Coastal Zone Management when plans are refined.
Summer’s End Group also applied for separate land and water use permits back in 2014 when it was first approved. However, in 2016 the Board of Land Use Appeals ruled that the permits should be consolidated because the land and water portions of the project were interdependent. (The implications of this ruling are still being disputed.)
In a recent phone interview, Calhoun was quick to point out the Sirius’ plans for a marina and condominium complex were independent, unlike the land and water portions of Summer’s End Group’s design.
“We can build the condos without the marina, or we could build the marina without the condos,” said Calhoun. In 2016, he said, “[Sirius] could exist [just] as a marina, but it has always been contemplated as a marina resort.”
Controversy Surrounds The Condominium Location
Although the marina portion is bound to generate much discussion, because of the potential environmental effects, the condominium portion may turn out to be more controversial.
As it stands now, the proposal calls for the construction of 89 condominiums on seven acres of land along the shoreline known as “the flats” or “the ballfield.” It’s an area that has been maintained as open space for centuries and has been used by the community for numerous public activities. In 2018, it was used as a staging area for processing debris resulting from hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Calhoun said the condominium complex will operate as a hotel and consist of 89 one and two-story “cottages” clustered around courtyards. He said some units may be three stories high, but the slope of the property will reduce the apparent height of the buildings.
Although the plans for the proposed resort will not impede the view of the water from Emmaus Moravian Church, the condominium units will block the view from the road except for “visual corridors” that are part of the design.
A portion of the seven acres will be maintained as “a village green” and can be used for weddings and other functions, but the open space will not be large enough to accommodate a ballfield, Calhoun said.
To offset the loss of the public space, Sirius Development is proposing to build a ballfield for community use in an area called “Lalaland” across from the “triangle” in Coral Bay, where Route 107 diverges from Route 10.
“Our 11 acres doesn’t include Lalaland,” Calhoun said. “That will cost us. We want to do that for the community – to have a recreation and sports area.”
There is some question about whether the area in Lalaland would be suitable for a ballfield because it may be considered a flood zone.
At an April 2016 Senate hearing, one community member, who identified herself as native St. Johnian, spoke out against the location of the condominiums and the relocation of the ballfield.
“I hate it when we push our people off into the corner into a flood zone,” she said. “Why can’t we have the waterfront property? Put [the resort] on the hillside behind the Moravian church. Maybe you who don’t live in Coral Bay don’t understand our passion,” she said. “Please respect our congregation. I’m begging you, put it at the rear of the church.”
In fact, Calhoun said he and his partners originally negotiated with the Moravian V.I. Church Conference to build the condominiums on the hillside near Emmaus Moravian Church. “I always prefer to live on a hill – there are better views, breezes and fewer bugs. But a surveyor discovered prickly ash, a federally endangered plant on the hillside, so that prohibited development there,” he said.
The move to put the condos on the Coral Bay ballfield drew objections from some members of the Emmaus Moravian Church congregation, who expressed a strong preference to maintain the ballfield as open space. In a three-part series in the opinion section of the Daily News from Jan. 13-16, 2016, Hugo Roller outlined the history of the conflict.
Roller said the Moravian V.I. Church Conference commissioned a study in 1992 to explore ways of raising money to sustain the aging church properties. When Emmaus congregation members were surveyed for their opinions, the majority of those responding supported plans to lease church land for public docks, warehouse space and municipal parking.
When they were asked, “If a developer submitted an offer to purchase land for condominiums or luxury vacation homes, and the price for the land was very favorable, would you support a decision to sell church land?” 90 percent of the respondents said no, according to Roller.
In a show of unity, members of the Emmaus Moravian Church have tended to stay out of the public controversy involving the church’s property, but the need to raise funds for building maintenance has become all too apparent since Hurricane Irma destroyed the red roof of the iconic Coral Bay structure.
Developer Says Sirius Marina Will Improve Coral Bay
Since the plans to build marinas by Summer’s End Group and Sirius Development have been made public, there has been opposition to aspects of each of them. However, there is also a general consensus that the community would benefit from an appropriately sized and constructed marina.
Calhoun said the Sirius Marina plan will do much to improve the quality of life in Coral Bay, including bringing in pump-out facilities to boaters in the harbor who have to go three miles out to sea to dump their holding tanks for sewage. He said his company would partner with community agencies to provide training programs and apprenticeships in marine trades, as well as encourage broader entrepreneurial opportunities for the community.
Calhoun also said Sirius Development wants to maintain much of the character of the town.
“We’re trying to blend in with the rustic beauty of Coral Bay,” said Calhoun.
The property leased from the Moravian V.I. Church Conference does not include the land on which the restaurant Skinny Legs, the Guy Benjamin School or the fire station are located. It also does not include .814 acres of land currently owned by the Virgin Islands Port Authority, according to Calhoun. It does include the land where Coral Bay Marine now operates, and Calhoun said he expects that business to remain.
Calhoun hopes to get community feedback regarding the type of businesses that could be a part of the marina complex. Possibilities include a provisioning center, spa, laundry service, pharmacy and high-end restaurant. The design team intends to create a “green” project that qualifies for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.
During the community meetings in 2015, community members questioned construction plans that included dredging, relying on wells to supply potable water, and the relocation of the community dinghy dock. These and other matters will be discussed as plans are amended in response to further input from community and government agencies.
Conflicts Between The Two Marina Projects Continue
Plans for Sirius will no doubt be amended as the Summer’s End Marina proposal evolves. Although both groups have said their marina projects could coexist, the Moravian V.I. Church Conference, as the owner of the property leased to Sirius Development, has been in litigation with the Summer’s End Group for several years over riparian rights. (Riparian rights, in this situation, refers to the right to access and use water adjacent to shoreline property.)
Samuel Rhymer, property manager for the Moravian V.I. Church Conference, testified last October at a Senate hearing that the Summer’s End project would deprive the church of the “full and equitable use of their land for their own marina project,” as well as damage the environment. In July, Rhymer said their concerns about Summer’s End are still pending in Superior Court.
Despite delays caused by economic downturns, hurricanes and now a global pandemic, Calhoun said his development team is determined to move ahead.
“We’ve already put in $5 million or more, plus a lot of sweat equity,” he said.
Although he maintains a low profile on St. John, Calhoun has been involved in business deals in Coral Bay since 1987. A practicing attorney and former yacht broker, he has owned a condominium on the east end of St. Thomas for 15 years.
Calhoun partnered with the St. John Boatyard, a group headed up by Theovald “Mooie” Moorehead, to build the St. John Boatyard in Coral Bay that held a groundbreaking ceremony complete with golden shovels in 1987. That project never came to fruition, although the ruin of an old Travel Lift purchased for the project continues to rust away on the shoreline.