A neighbor of the zip line operation that held its “soft opening” Monday is suing to close it down on the grounds that it is a commercial venture in a residential zone. The complaint, filed this week in Superior Court, also alleges that one or more structures connected with the venture are built closer to the required 15 feet from adjacent property.
A zip line is a type of aerial rope slide mounted on an incline to enable a user to travel or tour, often accessing remote areas, by a pully system and gravity. Zip line tours are becoming popular vacation activities.
Andrew Bowers, manager of the Tree Limin Extreme, which operates the attraction, said late Wednesday he was unaware of the complaint and thus unable to offer an immediate response. The venture does have its building permits and business license.
The case has an interesting political twist. The plaintiff is an entity called One St. Peter LLC – read prominent attorney Paul Hoffman – which owns Parcel No. 1 Estate Peter, next to Parcels 2 and 2A where Tree Limin Extreme LLC has constructed a building and several platforms with zip lines running from one to another. Hoffman’s sister, Jane Walker, lives in a home on Parcel No. 1.
“We tried very hard to resolve this amicably,” said Maria Tankenson Hodge, who is listed on the complaint as the attorney for One St. Peter LLC. “We would have preferred a neighborly resolution.”
As for Hoffman’s status, Hodge acknowledged that he is viewed as close to the governor, who has publically supported a zip line attraction as a way to improve tourism, but Hodge said in this case, Hoffman is “just another Virgin Islands resident trying to get fair treatment from the government.”
The soft opening resulted in neighbors being subjected to “loud shouts, squeals and generally disturbing noise” that will only get worse once the attraction is in full operation, according to the complaint.
It asks the court for a preliminary and permanent injunction and a declaratory judgment closing the attraction and forcing the owners to remove structures that the plaintiff says were constructed within the legally required 15-foot setback from the property line.
In a phone interview, Hodge described the structures as supports for the zip line platforms. “I’ve been told it’s several” that are within the setback.
The suit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Hodge explained that a plaintiff is not allowed to specify a figure for damages for a problem. “It depends how long it stays there before it’s rectified and how much harm it causes,” she said.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources issued the building permit to Tree Limin Extreme and the Department of Licensing issued it a license. So why isn’t the government named in the suit?
“There are some administrative steps to take first,” Hodge said, adding that they had held off on those hoping to settle the issues without asking for a formal administrative hearing. But once the license was issued and the attraction opened, it was time to go to court.