V.I. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez gave the Calabash Boom moderate income housing project the green light by dismissing the Friends of Coral Bay’s suit against developer Reliance Housing Foundation last week.
Citing environmental concerns, the Friends’ latest motion was a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order which was filed more than a year after the group first filed suit against the development on the island’s south east shore.
It remained unclear if the Friends would further attempt to block construction of the $51 million project which includes 48 rental units and 24 townhomes for moderate- to low-income residents.
In his ruling, Gomez not only denied the motion, but dismissed and closed the Friends’ case on grounds the group did not establish “standing,” by any of three necessary ways, according to the ruling.
Friends were required to either prove injury-in-fact, “an invasion of a legally protected interest,” show a “casual connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,” or establish that the “injury would be redressed by a favorable decision,” which the group failed to do, according to Gomez’s memorandum opinion.
Seeking “Two Bites of The Apple”
“Essentially, the Plaintiffs seek to have two bites of the apple when they are entitled to only one,” Gomez wrote in his ruling. “The Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden in showing due diligence, and as such, their motions will be denied.”
Reliance officials were thrilled with the ruling and are excited to get back to work, according to Reliance President Robert Jackson.
“We’re thrilled to have the judge’s ruling in our favor,” Jackson said. “We’ve been under way since we got our storm water permit in late December and now this leaves us totally free to move ahead without further stops.”
The Friends’ opposition centered on adverse impacts on nearby Johnson Bay from run-off and effluent from on-site sewage treatment. The group also questioned the use of existing wells to supply potable water to residents.
New Storm Water Regulations
The Calabash site, however, is the first construction project to be fully permitted under the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated storm water regulations, explained Jackson.
And in addition to on-site storm water management mitigation measures, Reliance officials are partnering with adjacent property owners Martin and Tanagra Netsky, Jackson added.
“We’re really pleased about the Netskys, who own the land directly across the street from the Calabash Boom site with frontage on the road,” said Jackson. “They are concerned about the run-off from our up-hill neighbors which runs through our site.”
Partnering With Neighbors
“The Netskys would like to work with us and they proposed the use of their land for additional sediment and run-off controls,” Jackson continued. “They told us, ‘we would like to work with you and we think the Friends should have worked with you all along — feel free to use our land.’”
The Friends were upset with Gomez’s ruling and thought they had established “standing,” according to Attorney Jim Dougherty.
“Friends of Coral Bay is disappointed in Judge Gomez’s ruling and saddened at its implications for the future of the bay,” Dougherty wrote in a prepared statement. “We believe that our ‘standing’ to challenge the proposed Calabash Boom project is clear, particularly in light of the plumes of mud that we’ve seen streaming from the site into the waters of Coral Bay.”
Not Opposed To Affordable Housing
The group does not oppose the moderate income development, but only wanted to ensure Reliance’s compliance with required permits, according to Dougherty’s statement.
“We have sought in the court and before the concerned administrative bodies only that the required permits be obtained before construction proceeds,” according to the prepared statement. “We do not, and have never, opposed the construction of affordable housing at Calabash Boom. Our limited goal has been to reduce its environmental damage.”
Reliance officials are now hoping to be able to work together with the Friends and their uphill neighbors.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to work together,” said Jackson. “It’s important to have affordable housing and it’s important to do an environmentally-sound project. We want to do both and we will do both.”