Unlike 1999, there wasn’t much outrage this time around for the Pond Bay Club’s public hearing before the St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee on Thursday evening, December 14.
While about 35 people packed a small conference room at the Westin Resort and Villas only seven people testified and a few testified in favor of the project.
First American Development Group/Carib Limited Partnership has re-applied for a major CZM permit to construct 56 units in 20 buildings; two tennis courts; two pools; a restaurant; a spa; a fitness center; a waste water treatment facility; and a reverse osmosis plant in Estate Chocolate Hole on the South Shore of St. John.
The group’s original public hearing for the project in 1999 attracted about 100 residents with most railing against the project. Since then, however, developers altered their plans and decreased density at the site which seems to have swayed a few — but not all — of the detractors.
2002 Permit Expired
Pond Bay Club developers were granted a major CZM permit in 2002, but it was revoked this past September after no progress had occurred at the site for more than a year, as required by the V.I. Code, according to CZM officials.
Developers applied for a land permit only, and will have to apply for a water permit for the reverse osmosis plant, and obtain a permit for the intake and outflow pipes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the future.
Robert Emmett, president of First American Development, gave a short presentation and explained construction plans were the same as the ones submitted four years ago.
“I’m not here to make a long presentation,” said Emmett. “We have talked plenty of times before. I have nothing new to show you.”
“Ready To Go”
Compliance with the CZM-mandated requirements are the only changes in the plans, which have put the project on a fast track for construction, Emmett explained.
“We’re ready to go,” said Emmett. “There is a strong need to get this project going and get it going now. This project, and all involved, has been more exhaustively analyzed than any other under consideration in the Virgin Islands.”
Residents in opposition to the project cited traffic, noise and pollution as primary concerns.
“I’m opposed to this project,” said Estate Chocolate Hole resident Margaret Merrall. “I am particularly concerned about the traffic and negative impact this development will have on the neighbor’s quality of life.”
Water Quality Questioned
“I still have serious questions about the quality of the water in the salt pond and in the bay,” said Lisa Durgin, another Estate Chocolate Hole resident.
St. John is not the same island it was when Pond Bay Club’s permit was originally granted, Durgin continued.
“This island has changed drastically in the last four and a half years since this permit was first approved,” said Durgin. “Developers have continually run over rules and made a travesty of the system. I ask you to protect this island from the rape and pillage that has been allowed over the last four and a half years.”
The V.I. Water And Power Authority’s ability to keep up with demand was questioned as well.
“I am very concerned about WAPA’s ability to furnish electricity for this project,” said Estate Chocolate Hole resident Virginia Thornthwaite. “The bay is like a stadium — any noise goes all over the area. I hope if, and when, this is built, the developers would be willing to address neighbor’s concerns about the noise impact.”
“St. John is a small island and you can’t take for granted the water and power and sewage disposal the way you can in the states,” Thornthwaite continued.
Other residents in the area threw their weight behind the project.
Property Intended for Resort
“I want to remind everyone that this piece of property was always intended to be a resort and for the last 15 to 20 years residents in the area have always known it would be a resort,” said Estate Chocolate Hole resident Susan Stair. “Something is going to happen to this property and it’s in all our best interest if it’s going to be a resort, it be a first class, beautiful addition to St. John.”
“This could be something that could be a big plus for St. John,” Stair continued. “I’m in favor of this project.”
Estate Chocolate Hole resident and V.I. Port Authority board chairman Robert O’Connor Jr. also supported the project.
“In my opinion this is one of the very best things to happen to St. John,” said O’Connor. “There is only one problem — that you let the permit lapse and I had to come back to support the project. I have property there and I believe this will enhance the entire area.”
Residents who wish to submit written comments to CZM must do so within seven working days.
St. John CZM Committee members Gerald Hills, Madeline Sewer, Julien Harley, Andrew Penn and Edmund Roberts attended the hearing. The committee did not set a date for the decision meeting on Pond Bay Club’s permit application.