St. John Tradewinds News

HPR Officials Consider Takeover of Moravian Property for Playground

V.I. Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation officials are considering taking Moravian Church-owned land behind the Guy H. Benjamin School in Coral Bay for a public playground.

The V.I. government is considering using eminent domain proceedings to take possession of some of the Moravian Church waterfront land in Coral Bay that church officials want to have developed as condominiums, according to V.I. Department of Housing Parks and Recreation (HPR) Commissioner Ira Hobson.

HPR, in conjunction with Coral Bay Community Council officials and the Senator at Large have been working to bring back a public playground and recreational facility to Coral Bay.

The group has been looking at two alternatives for the playground site, a five-acre government-owned parcel off of Centerline Road and the Moravian Church-owned land behind Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School, according to HPR Commissioner Hobson.

Church-Owned Land Ideal
Of the two alternatives, Commissioner Hobson feels the Moravian Church-owned land, the site of a previous public playground, is a better choice because the government-owned site would have to be cleared and leveled before it would be suitable as a recreational facility.

“I would like to lease the church property again because then we could realize a recreational facility sooner,” said Commissioner Hobson. “The five acres would take a lot of planning and we’d need to refurbish the entire area.”

HPR maintained a playground on the church-owned property behind GBS for decades, but the lease ran out five years ago and has never been re-negotiated, Commissioner Hobson added.

The HPR commissioner met with Superinten-dent of the Moravian Church for the V.I. Conference Reverend Errol Connor and V.I. Senator at Large Craig Barshinger at the end of August to discuss re-leasing the land.

Church Intends to Lease to Developer
“Basically they (Moravian Church officials) have in mind to lease the property to a developer and that developer would build condos as well as a hotel and business activities,” said Commis-sioner Hobson.

The church should not use the property for financial gain, according to Commissioner Hobson.

“We are saying that it is very improper for the church to use the property for financial gains when it was always used as a community recreation area and we should now find some means of compromising,” HPR’s commissioner said. HPR is prepared to sign a long-term lease or try to purchase the land, Commissioner Hobson continued. Long-Term Lease Sought
“We stated that we would like to have a long-term lease with them dealing with at least 10 to 20 years and they would develop how much they would like for the lease,” said Commissioner Hobson. “We said that we would like to make a proposal to purchase the property for recreational activities if need be.”

HPR officials would appraise the property before any offers would be made, Commissioner Hobson added.

“We must first appraise the property and then find out where the money will come from,” said HPR’s commissioner, adding that Senator Barshinger would have to help to appropriate the funds which must be done by the senate.

HPR has one other option with which to obtain the land for recreational purposes, according to Commissioner Hobson.

Eminent Domain for Public Recreation
“We may have to take the land under eminent domain under the premise that the public needs the facility for public recreation,” Commissioner Hobson said, adding that property rights have been obtained under eminent domain in the past but he was unsure of the exact procedures.

The ideal situation would be if the Moravian Church granted HPR a lease, added Commissioner Hobson.

“I think the church should take the basic things into consideration and turn the property over to us,” said HPR’s commissioner.