Threatened by Development, Future of Haulover Hangs in Balance

More than three acres of pristine land on the East End could be the site of major development, or be preserved for future generations and the St. John community could help determine which becomes reality.

The 3.6 acres are spread over four parcels of land located on both sides of the narrow Haulover isthmus on the East End. The eastern portion of the land abuts V.I. National Park property and is located close to the V.I. Coral Reef National Monument.

South Haulover beach, on Round Bay, is on one parcel of the property, and the stunning snorkeling spot on North Haulover on Dreekets Bay, is on another parcel of the land in question.

The wetland habitat on the land is a significant resource to protect and there could be archaeological significance as well, according to Rafe Boulon, V.I. National Park Chief of Resource Management.

“The wetland habitat there is pretty important to protect and we we’ve neer done any archaeological studies there so there could be pre-history ruins in the area as well,” said Boulon.

While the property doesn’t actually abut the V.I. Coral Reef National Monument, it’s proximity means any development on the land would certainly impact the fragile area, Boulon added.

“That is a significant nursery reef habitat and there are important sea grass beds that would certainly be impacted by development in the area as well as the park on the north side of the property,” he said.

The land is owned by Family Properties Caribbean LLC (FPC) a long-time client of Morrisette and Muilenburg LLP, Attorneys at Law. The land is zoned R-2 (residential medium-density), which allows for  two dwelling units per quarter-acre. The developers have expressed an interest in applying for a Group Dwelling permit to get the “highest and best use” of the land, according to Attorney Rafael Muilenburg.

“Various people have been looking at these parcels, with several showings recently, including certain stateside developers,” he said. “Zoning of all the parcels is R-2, so we believe that the ‘highest and  best use’ (and the likely form of development) would be to construct at least  20 condominium dwelling units — up to 28, given that there are 3.6 acres with two dwellings potentially allowed on each quarter acre.”

“The condo units would probably be clustered on the hill adjacent to the VINP-facing east, probably using a group dwelling permit as permitted by DPNR regulations,” said Muilenburg. “Parking and other  amenities (tennis courts possibly) could go on the flat land adjacent to the trail up to the north beach. Needless to say, for those who love Haulover  in its natural state, this would not be a great outcome.”
FPC, however, is looking to sell the property, Muilenburg added.

“The seller has recently dropped the market price of the Haulover parcels from approximately $3 million down to $1.9 million,” said the attorney. “We believe something is likely to happen soon on this that will forever remove the possibility of conservation.”

To avoid a new condominium development on St. John, FPC principal David Prevo is willing to sell the land for conservation at the discounted price of $800,000, according to Muilenburg.

“David is a longtime fan of the Park, and is intrigued about the benefits for FPC’s nearby development at Dreekets Bay of dedicating this piece as conservation property,” Muilenburg said. “As such, FPC would  be willing to sell it for conservation at the amount they paid for it about 10 years ago, plus property taxes and other costs incurred, approximately $800,000 total, which is half or less of the likely market price.”

FPC can’t afford to just donate the land to V.I. National Park and in turn the VINP’s hands are tied due to the Estate Maho Bay acquisition, Muilenburg explained.

Two years ago the national non-profit Trust for Public Land raised the money needed to purchase the 400-plus acre Estate Maho Bay ­— the largest expansion of the park since its inception more than 50 years ago — to eventually sell to VINP, Muilenburg explained.

“The park is tied up right now — along with Friends of VINP and Trust for Public Land — with getting the various Maho acquisitions funded, which is a multi-year commitment they’ve already made,” said Muilenburg. “They do not feel  they can start the process of requesting funding for Haulover for at least a few more years.”

With that road a dead end, Muilenburg and FPC have been pursuing a different route to getting the resources at Haulover protected. Muilenburg and Prevo have been working with another national conservation group, called The Conservation Fund, to acquire the land for eventual transfer to VINP.

A boundary adjustment by VINP — which it does not have the funding to implement — is the first step, Muilenburg added.

“Without the boundary adjustment, TCF cannot buy the parcels, since they are not yet in the park’s system for funds allocation, and they need to get assurance of prompt repayment,” said the attorney. “A real ‘catch-22’ and the clock is ticking for development.”

Which is where the community comes into the picture. Muilenburg has outlined a conservation land structure in which supporters would essentially make zero-interest loans or outright donations to TCF, which would then use the funds to buy Haulover from FPC.

“We have proposed a structure in which interested residents, the ‘Friends of Haulover,’ would make donations or zero-interest ‘conservation loans,’ through the nonprofit group we’ve been working with, TCF,” said the attorney. “TCF then would use the money to buy the  property and hold it until the VINP buys it, at which point the loans to the St. John supporters would be repaid using the VINP funds.”

“Or we may be able to ‘buy out’ the loan people if we get more donations later on,” Muilenburg said.

The proposal’s advantages include TCF’s national prominence, its ability to take over responsibility for liability, insurance and other expenses and its 501c3 status — allowing a tax deduction for donations — and avoiding the need to form a new entity, explained Muilenburg.

The proposal, however, relies on the future assurance of VINP’s commitment to purchase the land and then repay the loans.

“The VINP will issue us a letter of assurance stating their intent to purchase the property, acknowledging that the investors are relying on the park’s assurance, and stating that Haulover will be the park’s top priority for funding once the Maho purchases are funded,” said Muilenburg. “The park believes that would likely take five to 10 years, though officials cannot commit to a definite period.”

“This would need to be a medium- to  long-term commitment, but the money will eventually be repaid,” said the attorney. “If the VINP should fail to follow through, TCF would be able to sell it to a  conservation buyer to get funds to repay the loans.

Muilenburg is looking for substantial donations — $100,000 or more — from residents interested in preserving Haulover. So far the local attorney has raised about $200,000 and is hoping to attract more donors.

“We are hoping for donations or loan commitments in the range of $100,000 or more to make this happen, and to  prevent the group from becoming too large, which makes coordination unwieldy,” Muilenburg said. “But we will consider smaller amounts if needed. In addition to loans, we  are hoping some people will be able to donate funds — the advantage there is that they would receive a tax writeoff for the amounts donated.”

“So far we have $200,000 in commitments toward the $800,000 needed,” he said. “Of that $100,000 is in loan funds an the other $100,000 is in donations.”

Muilenburg is working as the threat of development inches closer with the opportunity to preserve a special piece of St. John hanging in the balance.

“This is a chance to really make a difference for the VINP and for St. John,” said Muilenburg. “I’d imagine we could get the VINP to erect a bench or plaque on the site honoring those who have been financially involved. But the satisfaction of keeping Haulover natural and undeveloped would be the  biggest reward.”

To contribute toward the conservation of Haulover or for more information on TCF proposal, call Muilenburg at 693-8255 or email