A few years back, Coral Bay natives and long-time residents were envisioning the creation of a new Cora Bay town on filled land along Rte. 107 where a mega-yacht marine is now planned for the end of long docks.
CORAL BAY — There have been at least three and maybe four plans for the development of Coral Bay marine resources in recent years — and the controversial mega-yacht marina currently entangled in the federal permitting process and multiple legal challenges might not have been the most drastic plan on the drawing board for Coral Harbor.
But one proposal still bouncing around dwarfs the other plans in its proposed impact on the isolated community that was once the economic hub of St. John.
The small group drafted a simple photo-copied presentation for a plan with the grand title “Development of Coral Harbor from Penn Point northward” — a simple proposal for the dredging and filling of Coral Bay and Coral Harbor to create a “Coral Bay Town” including “(s)eaplane dockage similar to that on St. Thomas” and a heliport.
Development of “Coral Bay Town”
“That was a good plan,” said long-time Coral Bay resident gadfly Norm Gledhill, who first came to the U.S. Virgin Islands “donkey years” ago to help build the bulkhead for the Crown Bay port on St. Thomas. “They wanted to create a true Coral Bay Town.”
Meanwhile, St. Johnian business leader and V.I. Port Authority Board Chairman Robert O’Connor Jr. has stoically helped impel the transformation another earlier, albeit smaller, marina plan into an even larger, more controversial project, while a moribund, decades-old development project on the north shore of the broad bay has recently shown signs of renewed economic life.
The recently-CZM-approved St. John Marina, The Yacht Club at Summer’s End plan for a 145-slip, mega-yacht marina on the western shore of Coral Harbor proposes the months-long installation of thousands of pilings for docks stretching hundreds of feet from the shoreline of Route 107 to reach water deep enough for docking deep-draft vessels without dredging.
Marina, Shoreline Mixed-Use
The Coral Bay community hub of the shuttered Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School and the V.I. Fire Department station on the north shore of the broad bay could soon be enveloped by a mixed-use hotel, residential and commercial project with another marina on the shoreline on Moravian Church-owned waterfront property which extends from the intersection of Routes 10 and 107 to the mangroves behind Skinny Legs.
The enigmatic developers of the Moravian Church waterfront property have shown preliminary plans for a marina with a 30-foot-tall, dry-storage building for small boats on the waterfront behind the iconic Skinny Legs restaurant. So far the developers are only requesting a zone change for one of five separate parcels in their proposed project to allow the construction of a three-story “hotel.”
While a large number of Coral Bay residents in and out of the boating community are continuing their strong opposition to the plan for the development of a 145-slip “mega-yacht” marina covering most of the same harbor waters, a small group of native St. Johnians and long-time residents of the communities lining the south shore of the harbor have envisioned a grander development for the bucolic bay.
And they still do.
Filling Shoreline from Penn Point to Skinny Legs
Developed about three years ago, according to several people involved, the ad hoc group’s proposal for the development of most of the shoreline of Coral Harbor inside of Penn Point on either side of the mangrove area on the inner shoreline of the harbor along Route 107 and Route 10.
The “Brief Summary of Proposal” proposed to dredge a “channel for barges and larger vessels” and “(d)rive sheet piles and fill in the low area along the eastern shore from Penn Point toward the Mangrove Area and around in back of Skinny Legs.”
The plan was outlined in the Dockage-Wharf Project “Project Proposal,” an ad hoc folder which included photocopied maps with an outline of the proposed project.
Boat Dockage, Wharves in Filled Area
The project included the development of “the filled in area for boat dockage and wharfs… to provide for:
“Barge Off-On Loading; boat slips and marina; boat ramp; sea plane dockage similar to that on St. Thomas; heliport; storage for supplies (building & food); truck loading and off-loading; Customs Office, public rest rooms; parking; upland drainage passage; conserving mangrove areas and providing walkways around, and public road access improvements.”
Like the SEG mega-yacht marina plan, the Coral Bay Town plan also would have included the relocation many of the plethora of legal and illegal moorings in the island’s largest harbor.
“Coral Harbor, the NW arm of Coral Bay, is narrow, and the deep part of the bay is restricted to a width of 100 yards or less by encroaching shoals from the side and head of the harbor,” read the outline for the proposed harbor development project. “The anchorage ground, although smooth with ordinary winds, is narrow, and being on a lee shore it is available only for small vessels. A small boat wharf with 3 feet alongside is at the head of the bay.”
“Remnants of a barge off-loading ramp also exist at the head of the bay. Riprap boulders have been placed along the western shore to protect Road Route 107,” the Coral Bay Town proposal continued.
Gadfly Gledhill Liked Old Plan
“It wasn’t too long ago,” Gledhill recalled of his attendance at one meeting of the native group promoting the Coral Bay Town project. “They brought me in after a number of meetings.”
Gledhill said he never heard about the plan again.
“Now that was the plan,” said one Coral Bay native who was involved in the Coral Bay Town plan and is now supportive of the new, enlarged SEG St. John Marina proposal to extend docks over the shallow waters of the Coral Harbor — instead of filling the area to create Coral Bay Town.
Zone Change Proposed
The proponents of the latest iteration of the development on historic Moravian Church property have applied for a zone change for a portion of one of five parcels involved in that mixed-use residential, hotel and marina project after they briefly shared the spotlight during the St. John Coastal Zone Management committee hearing on the St. John Marina, The Yacht Club at Summer’s End (SEG) plan in August.
Sirius Development LLC-proposed site plan presented at the zone change hearing included four “white plane figures with four straight sides and four right angles,” on the government-owned parcel currently used as a parking area which is designated for a two-level parking structure, and on the shoreline area behind Skinny Legs which is zoned Waterfront Industrial and which is being designed to contain docks and a haul-out ramp in addition to a 30-foot high, small boat storage facility.