Testifiers at Hearing on Zone Change for Development of Moravian Property

There were less than a dozen testifiers at the December 4 DPNR Coastal Zone Planning hearing on a zone change for the proposed development of a three-story hotel, residential an commercial development on Moravian Church and leased government property in Coral Bay.

DPNR Coastal Zone Planning Director Stuart Smith and Sirius Development LLC architect John Woods responded to pertinent questions:

David Silverman, Coral Bay Resident and Community Organizer:
“First I want to compliment the developers for their openness and transparency,” said opening testifier David Silverman, a Coral Bay resident who organized the Internet fundraising effort to fight the competing mega-yacht marina project on the opposite shore of Coral Harbor

Silverman praised the continuation of the Emmaus Moravians’ “historical use of open space… which meets needs of the community” and the developers’ professed intention for portions of the property “to remain as open space.”

The community activist also encouraged zoning officials to conduct “historical research to determine if they are not acting counter to or in violation of the wishes of the original landowners.”

“The Quit Claim deed didn’t indicate any specific restrictions,” Sirius Development LLC architect John Woods responded in answer to one suggestion by a testifier that officials conduct “historical research to determine if they were not acting… in violation of the wishes if the original land owners.”

“The deed is included in the application to my knowledge,” Woods explained.

Silverman also proposed a zoning variance be granted rather than the zone change under consideration, asserting the variance would not “run” with the property to be used by a subsequent developer for other purposes. 

“A variance is no different, it does in fact run with the land,” DPNR Coastal Zone Planning Director Stuart Smith later said in response to Silverman’s assertion – which was reiterated by a second testifier and which Silverman continued to assert in an exchange with Smith at the end of the hearing.

The pair of community activists pressed their contention that zoning officials consider granting the project a use variance rather than the permanent zone change requested which was under consideration because the zone change would be in place for any other developer of the property if the Sirius project was not completed and a variance would not – despite Smith’s explanations.

“A variance will not work in this case,” Smith reiterated.

“You cannot increase height limits or the number of uses” with a variance; a variance would apply to density, the zoning official explained. “Land use can’t grant a variance on height.”

Phillip Stringer, Coral Bay Homeowner and Boater:
“The risk of somebody else coming in and using a new zoning designation might be a major problem for everyone down the line,” said Coral Bay homeowner and boater Phillip Stringer.

“The primary place for boats to come ashore is the existing dinghy dock,” Stringer reminded the zoning officials. “I don’t know how the developer plans to deal with that – if that’s going to change.”

“All of that is still maintained,” project architect Woods subsequently responded about current marine access from the shoreline portion of the property. “The dinghy dock, as well as the boat lift, are all geared towards public use. The dinghy dock will continue.”

Robert O’Connor Jr., St. Johnian Business and Civic Leader, Partner, Coral Bay Marina, The Yacht Club at Summer’s End:
“I believe that there must be a balance,” testified Robert O’Connor Jr., St. Johnian Business and Civic Leader who is a partner in the competing “mega-yacht” marina project Coral Bay Marina, The Yacht Club at Summer’s End.

O’Connor told the December 4, V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources Coastal Zone Planning hearing on a proposed property zone change for a marina project in Coral Harbor that was challenging the neighboring marina project in which he is a principal. “We can’t have all ‘No development.”

“The migration that took place in Coral Bay happened because there were no opportunities in Coral Bay,” O’Connor told DPNR Coastal Zone Planning Director Stuart Smith at the hearing – which was conducted at the St. John Legislature Building which he built and owns.

“We’ve got to look at these things for what they are,” O’Connor, a partner in the who said he was not going to take the position that “I have mine so you don’t get yours.”

“I have a vested interest in St. John,” O’Connor added. “I want to see St. Johnians have opportunity on St. John, economic opportunities.”

“There are those of us who have to try to make it here,” the community business leader and Chairman of the V.I. Port Authority continued. “There are other remedies to us being taxed to death.”

“I’m not for destroying St. John,” O’Connor was quick to add. “St. John has to provide opportunities for indigenous people. There has got to be a balance to this.”

“We need to recognize there are two sides to every equation,” O’Connor told the two planning officials conducting the hearing and the small audience.

Athlete Praises Priority of Relocating Community Ball Field
O’Connor a standout athlete into his adulthood, praised the developers of the competing project for proposing to recreate the community’s ball field on an adjacent property to retain open space in the vista from the Emmaus Moravian Church, even though the same developers have filed a legal challenge to an approved project on the opposite shore of the inner harbor in which O’Connor is a partner.

“I think that’s responsible,” O’Connor said plans for the Moravian Church property on the shore of Coral Harbor in Estate Emmaus.

“We need to give this project a fair shake,” O’Connor told the zoning officials and the small audience.

Give it a chance to survive, to succeed, the community leader urged the officials – and opponents of the proposed project.

“We need to give it a chance – to give people a chance to get a job,” O’Connor reiterated.

“Coral Bay used to be the economic hub.” he reminded the small audience. St. John needs “not only recreational (but) economic activity,” the community leader reminded the hearing audience.

Ernest Matthias, St. Johnian Firefighter:
“In order to survive here on St. John you need 10 jobs,” said St. Johnian V.I. Firefighter Ernest Mathias, who acknowledged he also was one of the few native islanders working in the marine industry in his second job as a diver and supported additional marine development in the Coral Bay area. “I would like to see a marina, but a small (compact) marina
Matthias, however, questioned the fire protection planned for the proposed mixed-use residential and commercial development that is planned to include at least one three-story hotel structure.

“Would you have enough water in the event of a fire,” he asked, to assurances that planned cisterns and a planned reverse osmosis plant would be more than sufficient to protect the proposed development.

Matthias also encouraged the developers to ensure there was additional firefighting apparatus for Coral Bay, including a fireboat.

“The only fire boat is on St. Thomas,” Matthias reminded the hearing audience.

“The will be fire suppression for three stories,” project architect John Woods responded to the concerns of the firefighter about the developers plans for fire protection and excess potable water production for the community.

“The use of a R/O (reverse osmosis) plant is what we are geared towards,” Woods responded, adding that there were no major plans for excess water production and that the hotel and related development would “require a sprinkler system.”

“The system will have dedicated water storage for fire fighting,” Woods added.

Elsie Thomas Trottman, Moravian Church Member:
“The V.I. Conference (of the Moravian Church) is not in partnership with the developers,” Moravian Church member Elsie Thomas Trottman told the hearing succinctly. “The developers have leased the property. Don’t look at this as a joint venture because it is not a joint venture.“

“I would like you to keep that in mind,” Trottman reiterated to the zoning officials. “It is not a joint venture.”

Craig Barshinger, St. John Senator at Large:
“I think that a variance is the only thing to consider,” outgoing St. John Senator at Large Craig W. Barshinger said, reminding the zoning officials of failed St. Johnb development projects such as Pond Bay on the shore of Chocolate Hole. “You have no idea what it could be.”

“Are they current with their obligations to the Moravian Church,” Sen. Barshinger asked rhetorically. “It is my belief that (original project developer) T-Rex might not be current on their option.”

“T-Rex has surpassed its obligations and they have exceeded what they had to do,” responded Samuel Rymer, Property Manager for Moravian Council of the V.I. “They have met their financial obligations to the conference.”

The public comment period on the zone change is open for two weeks after the public hearing, Smith reminded the audience.