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HomeNewsArchivesBOARDWALK CONTINUES, SETTLEMENT NEARS

BOARDWALK CONTINUES, SETTLEMENT NEARS

Although a District Court judge temporarily blocked the V.I. government’s claim to a portion of a downtown Christiansted hotel’s waterfront property late Thursday, an adjacent boardwalk project will continue.
The V.I. government contends that a small portion of land – Plot 40-A – between the Comanche Hotel and Christiansted Harbor is public property. Mary Boehm, president of Club Comanche Inc., and the hotel’s ownership group say Plot 40-A, which contains a mill replica and a dinghy basin, has always belonged to the hotel, situated on Plot 40.
On Monday, Judge Raymond Finch heard arguments for and against the government’s claim on the property and on whether to order a temporary halt to the long-awaited boardwalk project that will run adjacent to the disputed parcel. While Club Comanche supports the boardwalk project, the hotel’s attorney, Bethaney Vazzana, said it disputes the government’s stance on Plot 40 A.
In the 1970s, the Department of Public Works reassessed old Danish plot maps off Strand Street and determined that the plots contained less land area between the street and sea than originally surveyed. The V.I. government contends that the remaining land — in the Comanche’s case it is called Plot 40-A – up to the sea is public property.
In his decision, Finch said the Comanche’s expert witness, local surveyor Marshall Walker, "testified persuasively that the property adjacent to Plot 40-A -– labeled Plot 40 and undisputedly owned by Comanche -– was originally intended to run ‘to the sea’ and include Plot 40-A."
Because of the conflict between the government’s measurements and the Comanche’s claim that its property runs to the harbor’s edge – a natural boundary – Finch said boundaries are the "paramount" guideline.
"Thus, the Court finds it likely that, at a hearing on the merits, Comanche will be found the rightful owner of Plot 40-A because the sea acts as the northern boundary of Comanche’s property."
Additionally, Finch said that the plaintiffs proved that irreparable harm was imminent because the government, as part of the boardwalk project, was in the position to take Plot 40-A without just compensation, a violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
While Finch ruled that the government "shall cease and desist its wrongful exercise of dominion and control" over the disputed property, he allowed it, absent objection by the plaintiffs, to continue with the boardwalk project. He cautioned the government, though, that any new construction may later be determined to have been built on property owned by the Comanche.
Vazzana said that the way the boardwalk is now configured, it will encroach on Comanche property. Considering the judge’s granting of the temporary restraining order against the government’s claim on the property, she said the Comanche "stands ready to come up with an agreement."
"There’s a few little issues about the boardwalk being close to the mill," she said. "We never intended to stop the project. We just didn’t want the government stepping on our rights."
According to Finch, issues over title to the property will be handled at a permanent injunction hearing, which will be held within the next 10 days.
"It’s close to getting our title resolved – finally," Vazzana said. "That will settle the dispute."

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Although a District Court judge temporarily blocked the V.I. government’s claim to a portion of a downtown Christiansted hotel’s waterfront property late Thursday, an adjacent boardwalk project will continue.
The V.I. government contends that a small portion of land – Plot 40-A - between the Comanche Hotel and Christiansted Harbor is public property. Mary Boehm, president of Club Comanche Inc., and the hotel’s ownership group say Plot 40-A, which contains a mill replica and a dinghy basin, has always belonged to the hotel, situated on Plot 40.
On Monday, Judge Raymond Finch heard arguments for and against the government’s claim on the property and on whether to order a temporary halt to the long-awaited boardwalk project that will run adjacent to the disputed parcel. While Club Comanche supports the boardwalk project, the hotel’s attorney, Bethaney Vazzana, said it disputes the government’s stance on Plot 40 A.
In the 1970s, the Department of Public Works reassessed old Danish plot maps off Strand Street and determined that the plots contained less land area between the street and sea than originally surveyed. The V.I. government contends that the remaining land -- in the Comanche’s case it is called Plot 40-A – up to the sea is public property.
In his decision, Finch said the Comanche’s expert witness, local surveyor Marshall Walker, "testified persuasively that the property adjacent to Plot 40-A -– labeled Plot 40 and undisputedly owned by Comanche -– was originally intended to run ‘to the sea’ and include Plot 40-A."
Because of the conflict between the government’s measurements and the Comanche’s claim that its property runs to the harbor’s edge – a natural boundary - Finch said boundaries are the "paramount" guideline.
"Thus, the Court finds it likely that, at a hearing on the merits, Comanche will be found the rightful owner of Plot 40-A because the sea acts as the northern boundary of Comanche’s property."
Additionally, Finch said that the plaintiffs proved that irreparable harm was imminent because the government, as part of the boardwalk project, was in the position to take Plot 40-A without just compensation, a violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
While Finch ruled that the government "shall cease and desist its wrongful exercise of dominion and control" over the disputed property, he allowed it, absent objection by the plaintiffs, to continue with the boardwalk project. He cautioned the government, though, that any new construction may later be determined to have been built on property owned by the Comanche.
Vazzana said that the way the boardwalk is now configured, it will encroach on Comanche property. Considering the judge’s granting of the temporary restraining order against the government’s claim on the property, she said the Comanche "stands ready to come up with an agreement."
"There’s a few little issues about the boardwalk being close to the mill," she said. "We never intended to stop the project. We just didn’t want the government stepping on our rights."
According to Finch, issues over title to the property will be handled at a permanent injunction hearing, which will be held within the next 10 days.
"It’s close to getting our title resolved – finally," Vazzana said. "That will settle the dispute."