The looming development of the Mora-vian Church-owned portion of the Coral Bay waterfront already is raising as many legal questions as it is answering.
While ownership of the shoreline portion of the property recently was established legally after a long dispute between the church and the V.I. government, the legal judgement only involved “a limited amount of land,” according to St. Thomas Attorney David Bornn.
Bornn represents the prospective developers of the church property, T-Rex, which has leased a five-acre portion of the Moravian Church property on the Coral Bay shoreline for development as a retail, condominium and marina project.
Litigation Settles Land Dispute
“The litigation which settled the land dispute between the church and the V.I. government established the waterfront as being part of what the church owned since the 1700s,” Bornn explained.
“Separate from that, the land the school and the fire department are on was deeded to the V.I. government specifically for a school in 1920 and 1936,” Bornn added.
Although there have been concerns expressed that the school property could revert to the Moravian Church ownership — and the T-Rex development project — if it was no longer used as a school, there is no reversion of ownership to the Moravians if the property is no longer a school, according to Bornn.
“It was deeded directly to the municipality,” the attorney for the development company said.
Bornn did not say if T-Rex would be interested in procuring the school site from the V.I. government if the Guy H. Benja-min School was closed or relocated.
“Beyond that, the Port Authority owns a small parcel in the open area next to Skinny’s (Skinny Legs) along the road (Route 10),” Bornn added.
Otherwise, the Moravian Church still owns the remainder of the waterfront property from the Coral Bay “triangle,” the intersection of Routes 10 and 107, including the community ball field and neighboring recreation area.
Ball Field’s Future Involved?
While church officials have consistently said any development would not include the community ball field, recent concerns about endangered species interfering with the development of another five-acre portion of the Moravian property on the other side of Route 10, may put the ball field back in play.
“As currently structured,” the ball field is not part of the lease, according to Bornn.
The development company has leased the remaining waterfront Moravian Church property, including the shoreline and waterfront property behind the V.I. Fire Department, the Guy H. Benjamin School, the former Centennial Park and the Coral Bay ball field, according to Bornn.
Basketball Court on Leased Land
Also in the lease is the property between the Guy H. Benjamin School and the Coral Bay ball field, including the basketball court and long-neglected bleachers surrounding the baseball field’s home plate, Bornn continued.
“In terms of legalities, that is part of the problem,” Bornn explained of the development company’s lease of a parcel which included “the bleachers of both the basketball court and the ball field.”
“The problem then became we haven’t been able to reach an agreement for the use of the recreational facilities,” Bornn said. “Which presents a legal problem.”
Since then “everybody just sort of assumed that you can just walk onto it,” Bornn added of the basketball court.
Improvement Plans Stalled
The ownership question recently stalled community plans to refurbish the basketball court and its bleachers, although the V.I. Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation has insisted it controls the basketball facility and would allow the improvements.
In 2003, St. John Department of Public Works employees demolished the massive wooden playground structures in the former Centennial Park between the school and the waterfront, when rumblings were first heard about a potential development of the area.
At the time public officials said the park play structures were removed because they were structurally unsound.
Karl Percell is the attorney for the Moravian Church and Cliff Preminger is a principal of developer T-Rex.