St. John Tradewinds News

Senate Approves Zoning Change for Coral Bay Development

Aerial view of the entire project site the T-Rex development group has proposed for Coral Bay. Photos courtesy of Save Coral Bay.

The Virgin Islands Legislature approved a measure to change the zoning of property owned by the Moravian Church in Coral Bay, St. John, allowing plans for a controversial condominium and marina development to move forward.

The Moravian Church V.I. Conference formed a partnership with T-Rex, LLC (also known as Sirius) to develop nearly 11 acres of church property for a marina and condominium resort.

Without the zoning change, the plan to build an 89-unit condominium project on the ballfield in Coral Bay would be hindered. Since the condominiums and marina were designed as related projects, the Senate’s refusal to approve the rezoning measure could have jeopardized the construction of the 90-slip marina project as well.

The Senate voted 12-2 on September 20, 2016 to allow a seven-acre waterfront property, which had been zoned for three different purposes, to be rezoned entirely as W-1, for waterfront recreational use.

The two senators who voted against the rezoning were Senator-at-Large Almando “Rocky” Liburd and Senator Myron Jackson.

At a Senate Committee of the Whole meeting to consider the rezoning request held on St. John on April 12, Senator Liburd, a St. John resident and a member of the Moravian Church, expressed mixed feelings about the development. Senator Jackson was the only senator to state outright opposition.

View from the road alongside the ball field in Coral Bay. Because of the lower elevation of the roadway, the two story hotel units will completely obscure the view of the water from the road.

During a brief phone interview, the head of the T-Rex development team, Rory Calhoun, said “I applaud the Senate.  I think it was a good decision.  The decision doesn’t change my plans.  It was the Moravian Church’s property.”

Calhoun said the project is still in the permitting process.  “We have faith and hope that sooner or later, things will come to fruition.”

When contacted by Tradewinds, Eulencine Christopher, superintendent of the Moravian Church V.I. Conference, said she had no comment for the media at this time.

Head of the the community group Save Coral Bay, David Silverman, shared the following comments with Tradewinds following the recent zone change approved by the Senate:

“The T-Rex development group is proposing to develop an 89 room resort and 100 slip marina on the Coral Bay ball field and in the water behind the Guy Benjamin School and Skinny Legs restaurant. Their proposal has met with significant opposition from the community and from the federal agencies responsible for reviewing environmental impacts.

 

In particular, the Army Corps of Engineers has asked T-Rex to justify the dredging of portions of Coral Bay harbor, installation of bulkheads, and filling of open water. Fish and Wildlife has expressed concerns about destruction of sea grass habitat. The EPA has stated that Coral Bay is an aquatic resource of national importance and they expressed strong objections to the marina and have told the Army Corps that the permit application should be denied.

 

The rezoning of the Coral Bay ball field, recently approved by the Legislature, met with strong opposition from members of the community and members of the Emmaus Moravian Church at the public hearing several months ago. The ball field is the only large expanse of dry, flat, open land in central Coral Bay and has been u sed as a public meeting ground for centuries. The proposal of T-Rex to relocate the ball field onto a smaller parcel in the flood plain to the west of the road is not a viable alternative.

 

At the public hearing, many of the Senators stated that the rezoning was not an approval of any project, but simply a step to allow applicants to propose something. They expressed doubts about the viability of the project, but felt it was appropriate to allow the proponents to move ahead with a proposal. It should be understood that a rezoning does not confer approval of any aspect of the actual project.

 

The lack of potable water to support an 89 room hotel is a significant concern. The lack of viable alternatives for waste water disposal is a related concern. The construction on the ball field would effectively foreclose and possibility of ever reopening the iconic Guy Benjamin facility as a public school.

 

We are confident that all of these issues – the environmental impacts of the marina, the public impacts of the loss of the ball field and meeting ground, and the lack of infrastructure to support a major hotel complex – will a be considered at the time of CZM hearing for this project.

 

A significantly smaller development in this area is something that the majority of the community might support, but the developers have been unwilling to consider anything other than their current proposal. The Save Coral Bay group will represent the interests of those people who want to see sensible development on the land and in the waters of Coral Bay. We will certainly be present if and when the St. John Coastal Zone Management committee meets to receive public comments on this project, and if necessary we stand ready to support the interests of the public if our local regulatory authorities fail in this regard.”