As the once sleepy Coral Bay area continues to grow, one family, with ties to the land dating back to 1835, is hoping to offer commercial services to the increasing population.
While no one spoke against the proposed Coral Bay development at a Wednesday evening, December 2, public hearing at the St. John Legislature building, several residents and St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee members expressed environmental concerns about the project.
Genevieve Marsh Thomas, president of G.E. Marsh Legacy Development and Holding Group, Inc. is requesting a major CZM permit to develop her almost five acres of property located along King Hill Road off Route 107 in Coral Bay.
The $2.9 million mixed-use development includes plans for four buildings, recreational facilities and an outdoor amphitheater. The development will consist of commercial space, five residential units, vendors kiosks, a tennis court, basketball court, a children’s play area, 70 parking spaces and an outdoor theater.
The Marsh property is zoned B-2 (business secondary) which allows the proposed uses.
“I am a born St. Johnian and I lived on the property for most of my life,” said Thomas. “I have a desire to develop the property now to bring services to the Coral Bay area for the rapidly growing population.”
Plans call for the current Love City Mini Mart building to be knocked down and relocated to a new larger structure where the business would be the anchor tenant in the new development. Domino Gas Station — which is located on one portion of the Marsh Legacy Group’s property — would remain open and possibly have room for expansion, explained Thomas.
The recreational components of the project would be located on a portion of the property designated as archaeologically sensitive, explained Alton Adams, who created the designs for the project.
“About 40 percent of the property is designated as archaeologically sensitive and is planned for minimal site disturbances,” said Adams. “Improvements such as recreation, basketball, tennis, volleyball, tots play areas and other open spaces are planned for this area.”
The plan for the archealogically sensitive area reflects suggestions from the State Historic Preservation Office, Adams added.
To access the project, developers plan to build a road off King Hill, near the King Hill and Route 107 intersection. A second emergency gated exit would be constructed on the valley side of the property as well, explained Adams.
“We will have the access road run around the exterior of the property to make it pedestrian friendly,” said Adams. “It will be similar to Crown Bay with vehicles kept on the perimeter so there is no conflict between vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
Construction would likely take place in several stages, depending on financing, the developers explained at the public hearing.
Marsh Legacy Group vice president Chandra Richards assured CZM Committee members wary of half-completed developments that the project would be seen through to the end.
“We have personal ties to this property,” said Roberts. “We’re not some outside developer that’s going to come in and rape the land. We have pride in this island — our family and our history and our culture are here.”
Water for the development is planned to come from two fresh water wells, which will be pumped by windmill driven power to a reverse osmosis facility on the property. The brine — which contains much less saline than if the intake was salt water said Adams — would be pumped into retention ponds on site.
The biggest concern raised at the meeting about the project was flooding, an issue the developers said they were addressing. While the land is in a flood plain, so are many other areas in the Virgin Islands, explained Adams.
“There has been much concern about flooding in the area and the land is located in a flood plain,” he said. “But, so what? So is most of Charlotte Amalie.”
“There is no reason not to build in a flood plain,” said Adams. “We’ve addressed that concern.”
Although Thomas contended that while there is a lot of run-off in the area, the property itself had never flooded, several residents and CZM Committee members were not convinced.
“What I’m hearing doesn’t make sense,” said St. John CZM Committee member Gerry Hills. “I waded through six inches of water in the parking lot of Love City Mini Mart last week. That area does flood.”
The developer is planning to construct six retention ponds to contain flood water, explained Adams.
“Most of the water goes around the property, not through the property,” Adams said. “We are proposing to add two more culverts to divert water and we hope that the Department of Public Works will address the road itself.”
“We’re also installing six retention ponds which will allow the sediment to settle before the water runs over the road,” said Adams.
Six people testified at the hearing, and most were in favor of the project, but flooding was still a concern.
“I want this project to happen but I have concerns,” said Pam Gaffin, who was pleased to be in favor of a project for once. “This area is a flood plain and there is a lot of water. Before one building goes up, the entire infrastructure should be in place.”
The water flows from the uphill areas, pointed out CZM Committee member Hills.
“Your property is not the source of the water,” said Hills. “This run-off is coming from up hill of you. But this is an opportunity to address the problem and help the watershed.”
Representing the Coral Bay Community Council, Elvis Marsh cautioned the developer to look closer at building and drainage costs.
“It could easily cost $3 million for the storm system alone,” said Elvis Marsh. “The retention ponds are inadequate for the amount of water that flows through the property. Estimates for the project are inadequate and underfunded.”
“There are many things that need to be looked at closely here,” he said.
The development of Coral Bay is the logical place for the island to grow, according to Brion Morrisette who testified in favor of the project.
“St. John will continue to grow and the only logical place for that is Coral Bay,” said Morrisette. “I think this is a very good project and projects of this nature need to be encouraged.”
The public has until Wednesday, December 9, to submit testimony in writing to CZM through the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
For more information call 773-1082.