Architect John Woods discusses the Moravian Church zone change request as CZM Planning Director Stuart Smith listens.
EMMAUS — Preliminary plans for the landside portion of the “other” Coral Bay marina project got their first official public airing on December 4 and received a kinder and gentler reception from a handful of resident testifiers than the controversial competing “mega-yacht” marina project already approved for Coral Harbor.
The plan also received testimony of support from a handful of native St. Johnians, including from one of the partners in the competing controversial mega-yacht marina already approved by the St. John CZM in October which is currently in the federal approval process – and which approval is under appeal. (See related story.)
The unpublicized Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning hearing was called to discuss a zoning designation change requested by the developers of the “second” marina project which will include a proposed landside hotel and parking structure.
Two Coastal Zone Planning staff members, including Director Stuart Smith, questioned the architect representing the developers, now reformed as Sirius Development LLC, who have a long-standing, long-range lease agreement with the Moravian Church Council of the V.I. for Emmaus Moravian Church property on the shore of Coral Harbor and an adjoining parcel leased from the V.I. government.
Unpublicized Hearing Draws Small Audience
The presentation drew a relatively small audience of approximately 20 people – remarkably fewer than the overflow crowd at the August CZM hearing which was mostly opposed to the “mega-yacht” Coral Bay Marina, The Yacht Club at Summer’s End project already approved for the opposite shore of Coral Harbor from the Moravian property. (See related stories.)
“This project has been around a long time,” St. Thomas architect John Woods acknowledged. Rory Calhoun of the project’s initial developer T-Rex has been involved with the property for about 30 years, according to Woods, who said he has been involved in the redesign of the project with the project since 2006.
The developers, who have a long term lease on the “approximately 12-acre” site comprising three parcels of church-owned property and a V.I. government-owned parcel, according to Woods, have requested a zoning designation change to waterfront pleasure, W-1, for a portion of a parcel currently zoned as residential low density, R-2, and part of a parcel zoned waterfront industrial, W-2.
The developers have “worked tirelessly to come up with a project that would be the right fit,” according to Woods. Originally planned as “fractional or timeshare” ownership, “that’s not viable anymore,” Woods explained, of the change to the mix of one- and two-bedroom residential units and proposed three-story hotel.
“It became clear we needed to pull back and do a market study and determine what the best project would be,” said Woods. “It was important to get the right feel for the project.”
The original plan had called for more upland construction on the hillside above the historic Emmaus Moravian church which location was changed because of presence of a species of endangered plant, according to Woods.
The rezoning request that is the subject of the application would allow the development to locate the residential portion of the project and the commercial elements in a shoreline design which is planned to include a three-story hotel building and “parking structure” on a portion of the property which is the subject of the zone change, Woods explained. The site includes one V.I. government-owned parcel.
“We’re not asking for rezoning to build a marina,” Woods emphasized. “What we’re focusing on tonight is the land that needs to be rezoned for the landside (of the project).”
The preliminary plan submitted with the rezoning application also includes a two-story parking structure to serve the proposed residential and commercial development and the planned marina on the site of the current ramshackle parking and boat storage area which includes a V.I. government-owned parcel between the shuttered historic Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School and Skinny Legs.
The parking structure would not actually be two stories because the design would take advantage of the “10-foot” drop in elevation between Route 10 and the shoreline of the bay, the architect explained.
Marina Still in Planning Stage
The marina portion of the project, shown in the conceptual drawings as blank white squares representing the large waterfront dry storage building of indeterminate height, boat launch ramp and a small finger pier on the shoreline portion of the project behind the iconic Skinny Legs restaurant on the drawings submitted for the rezoning request, is still in the planning stages, Woods explained.
In the artist renderings of the project, the shoreline dry-storage building appears to be a large multi-story building sited on the waterfront approximately where the current boat landing has evolved over the years into a small boat dock.
“Good Feel for Community”
“We have a very good feel for the community,” added Woods, who said the group expected “sometime next year to put together a CZM package for the marina” portion of the project.
The entire project area is just under 12 acres, Woods said of the development footprint which includes the Moravian Church ball field property and waterfront parcels extending along Coral Harbor behind the shuttered Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School, the Coral Bay Fire Station and Skinny Legs.
The plan has been expanded to include the construction of a new community recreational field on a separate parcel on Rte. 10 west of the current community ball field in what is known as “Lala Land,” which would likely be built before development begins on any portion of the existing ball field, Woods said.
The rezoning application will be referred to the V.I. Legislature for approval after Smith and his staff make their recommendations. There was no indication of when Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning staff would act on the rezoning request.
The actual permit to construct the project would require subsequent additional CZM approval of the final plans.
Members of the public who want to comment on the zone change can e-mail CZM’s Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.