St. John CZM Committee Takes Action on Three Requests

Committee Members Madaline Sewer, Andrew Penn and Gerry Hills listen to a modification request during last week’s decision meeting at the Westin Resort and Villas.

St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee members handed down three decisions on Thursday afternoon, April 28, and tabled one modification request.

The group took action on two requests for modification to permits and one request for extension, while tabling one request for modification at last week’s decision meeting.

St. John CZM Committee members Madaline Sewer, Andrew Penn and Gerald Hills attended the meeting at the Westin Resort and Villas on Thursday afternoon. Member Edmund Roberts was absent.

Coral Bay Development Granted Extension
G.E. Marsh Legacy Group requested an extension of its major CZM permit to construct a commercial and residential complex on its Coral Bay land. The developers plan to construct two single story commercial buildings, one two-story commercial and residential building, a food court, a 150-seat amphitheater, and a maintenance building along with six detention ponds.

Plans for the development also include constructing 70 parking spaces, two windmills, a reverse osmosis plant and three wells on parcel 6R-1 Estate Carolina, just off South Shore Road.

“Planning and funding arrangements have not progressed to the stage that would permit meaningful construction by May 19, 2011,” according to the Marsh Legacy Group’s request for extension.

Adopting CZM staff findings and recommendations, the St. John CZM committee voted unanimously to grant the developers a one year extension, while keeping all special conditions in place which were issued with the Marsh Legacy Group’s original permit.

Monitoring Reduced at Pond Bay Club
The court-appointed receiver overseeing Pond Bay Club, whose permit is now controlled by European bank West LB AG, requested a modification of the project’s current major CZM permit. Richard Morawetz requested temporary changes to the development’s Environmental and Water Quality Monitoring requirements, sedimentation analysis and coral and seagrass monitoring.

A major CZM permit was originally granted to First American Development Group/Carib back in January 2007 to construct a 56 unit fractional ownership and hotel development in Estate Chocolate Hole. Since that time, the developer requested several modifications and reconsiderations to the original permit from CZM before shutting the 13.55 acre construction site down more than a year ago.

An ensuing legal battle between First American Development Group, and its principal Robert Emmett, and West LB AG — which granted the developer a multi-million dollar construction loan — ended with V.I. Superior Court putting the development into receivership and granting West LB the property pledge.

Morawetz was appointed receiver over the property and granted possession of the CZM permit.

The modification was requested because “construction activity has ceased temporarily and the current level of monitoring is excessive and burdensome in light of the current realities on the site,” according to the modification request.

“The temporary modification is intended to last only during the foreclosure proceeding and until ownership of the property is transferred to a new developer and construction activity is resumed under the CZM permit,”  according to the request.

Adopting staff findings and recommendations, the St. John CZM Committee voted unanimously to grant the modification request, allowing the receiver to temporarily proceed under “during construction monitoring” plans with reduced monitoring of seagrass, coral, sedimentation and water quality. The temporary modification will last only until construction activity resumes at the site, according to St. John CZM members.

WAPA Request Tabled
The V.I. Water And Power Authority took the floor next with Amy Dempsy of BioImpact detailing the utility’s request to modify its permit in order to run a backup electrical cable from Red Hook, St. Thomas to Frank Bay, St. John.

Amy Dempsy of BioImpact shows pictures of the current electrical cable running from St. Thomas to St. John, which is similar to a new one WAPA hopes to install.

Dempsy showed St. John CZM Committee members pictures of the existing pipeline and images of the new cable’s planned location. The new cable would “provide redundancy so that if the other cables are lost or damaged, there will be full electrical power for the island of St. John,” according to the request.

WAPA Engineer Cordelle Jacobs, however, was unable to answer questions from the committee regarding three utility poles in Frank Bay, prompting the committee to table the request.

Under questioning from committee members Penn and Hills, Jacobs, admitting not knowing details of WAPA’s St. John substation.

“My boss couldn’t make it here today,” Jacobs said.

“If we have a WAPA representative, you have to know about the area you are landing the cable,” said Hills.

The committee voted unanimously to table the request. CZM staff pledged to communicate with WAPA in order to bring the modification request back to the group as quickly as possible.

The St. John CZM Committee’s final action of the afternoon was a decision on Westin Resort and Villa’s modification request to allow beach nourishment, extend the location of its tents, allow the permanent placement of beach chairs, extend the location of its beach tents and replace the concrete slab on the beach side of Snorkels Bar and Restaurant.

Adopting staff findings and recommendations, the committee granted several of the permittee’s requests, while denying the permanent placement of beach chairs. Citing the Open Shoreline Act, the committee prohibited the permanent placement of chairs within the 50 foot shoreline setback on the beach.

In their request for modification, Westin officials cited damage from Tropical Storm Otto, which washed sand into the bay, causing a seven foot drop on the beach. While immediate regrading occurred for the safety of hotel guests, 1,700 cubic yards of sand are still needed to restore the beach, according to Westin’s modification request. Committee members granted this portion of the request.

The committee okayed Westin’s request to erect a large tent at the resort’s Palm Terrace, located away from the beachfront and above an existing concrete slab. The tent will not be permanent, but could be in place for one week, two to three times a year, according to the request.

Westin officials also got approval to erect tents on the beach, as long they are removed by noon the day following their use, according to St. John CZM Committee members.

The committee also approved Westin’s request to replace the concrete slab for Snorkel’s Beach Bar as long as the new slab is the same size as the current one.

Only Sewer and Hills — who both voted to adopt staff findings — weighed in on the measures, however, because committee member Penn abstained from voting. Owner of Penn’s Trucking, a sand vendor, Penn said he was had a conflict of interest in the vote but lauded Westin officials for their due diligence.

“I recused myself because my company has a potential interest in part of the project,” said Penn. “I am a sand vendor and I did a project for Westin seven years ago, before I was a St. John CZM Committee member. I talked to Westin’s general manger seven months ago and cautioned him to follow all procedures of protocol.”

“I want to applaud the Westin for following all the correct steps and here we are seven months later,” said Penn.
The committee was still able to form a quorum, with Penn only abstaining from voting on the Westin requests for modification.