After years of rumors, debate and secret negotiations concerning the major inholding in Estate Maho Bay, sources are now saying the Trust for Public Land (TPL) is negotiating a deal to purchase and preserve from development the 440-acre parcel.
The Estate Maho land is one of the largest inholdings in the V.I. National Park, which comprises about one-third of the land on St. John.
The large tract of land, which stretches across five mountain tops along the North Shore Road, is owned collectively by three groups. The heirs of Herbert Marsh own seven of the 11 undivided shares, the National Park Service (NPS) owns three and the TPL owns one.
The fate of the this parcel of land has been in question for years. The TPL interest, while not new, is the latest serious offer which the family is considering.
About two months ago, the family said the deal that was working with the guy from New York had fallen through, said a source close to the negotiations who asked not to be identified. The TPL is attempting to purchase the land now.
No Word from TPL
The TPLs southeast regional manager John Garrison, did not return repeated calls from the St. John Tradewinds requesting comment.
One of the Marsh heirs, Allegra Kean, would not confirm the TPL involvement. The lawsuit is still going on and I dont have anything to add, she said. This has been going on for many, many years and we are still slugging through.
The TPL is a national, nonprofit, land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come, according to the groups Web site.
11 Undivided Shares
The TPL already owns a share of the Estate Maho Bay Property. The TPL purchased its share of the estate last year, in addition to a contiguous corner beachfront parcel, for an undisclosed sum. With current land prices, however, the beachfront parcel could easily have reached the $1 million mark.
The NPS has acknowledged for years that it could not afford to purchase the remaining interest in the Estate Maho property at current market prices.
The Marsh heirs entered into negotiations with a local developer two years ago and since then have been in litigation with the NPS to subdivide the land to make it eligible for sale. That case is still pending.
The land cannot be sold in its present undivided state, so the V.I. courts will now decide how to partition the 440 acres. The process could take years, but eventually the NPS will own about 160 acres, the TPL will claim 40, and the heirs will have the title to the remaining 240 acres.
The Marsh heirs would also partition their seven shares into about 34 acres each. A buyer could then negotiate with the six heirs interested in selling.
New York Billionaires Interested
Months ago it was reported that six of the seven Marsh heirs signed purchase contract options with New York billionaires James and Marilyn Simons, who also were negotiating with the NPS and TPL to acquire their four shares of the property.
At the time, the New York billionaries had offered to put 240 acres of the Estate Maho land in a conservation easement in exchange for the NPS and TPL shares. They also had a number of demands, including diverting the North Shore Road away from the beach at Maho Bay, building a 120-foot dock at the beach and opening the nearby wetlands in the bay.
The Simons had planned to construct several structures, including a family compound, homesites, and a think tank on the land.
Now, however, talks between the parties have halted and the TPL seem to be at the forefront of negotiations.