June 24, 2004 – The recent partial settlement of a 10-year-old legal battle between the Port Authority and the Moravian Church means that development can now proceed on 10 acres of land adjacent to Coral Harbor, a lawyer for the church said on Thursday.
"If we can get everything finalized, we could break ground in a year," attorney Karl Percell said.
He said the church is now negotiation with several developers to construct a hotel of 150 rooms about half the number at the Westin Resort — as well as 200 condominium units, a 50-slip marina, a supermarket and an office building on the 10 acres it owns.
The project must first past muster with a host of agencies, including the Planning and Natural Resources Department and, ultimately, the Legislature, which must approve any zoning changes and requests for major Coastal Zone Management permits.
Territorial Court Judge Rhys Hodge ruled on June 4 that the Moravian Church, and not the Port Authority, owns the 1.3-acre piece of land adjacent to the dinghy dock. But Percell said the two groups must settle on damages owed the church for trespass. That issue is now in negotiation, he said.
The Moravian Church land wends in an irregular line around the harbor. It includes the ballfield, a strip of land along the water behind the ballfield, a piece of land across Route 107 from the ballfield, the strip behind Guy Benjamin School, the chunk adjacent to the dinghy dock, and a piece that continues for several hundred yards along the East End Road.
It does not include the Skinny Legs Bar and Restaurant land, the school grounds or the fire station. Skinny Legs lies on privately owned property, and the school and firehouse are on land owned by the V.I. government.
Emmaus Moravian Church sits across East End Road from the school.
A group spearheaded by the late Theovald Moorehead called St. John Boatyard had planned to develop the 1.3-acre piece previously claimed by both VIPA and the Moravian Church. It held a lease from the Port Authority. St. John Boatyard joined forces with several off-island developers to form American Virgin Islands Enterprises.
The recent court order mandated that the Port Authority, St. John Boatyard and American Virgin Islands Enterprises vacate the land. The order gave them 15 days from the June 4 deadline to respond.
One Coral Bay business currently pays rent to St. John Boatyard. Sandy Mohler, who with her husband, Alan, owns Coral Bay Marine, said she hasn't heard anything from anyone regarding the rent or the proposed development. She said Coral May Marine does not have a lease but pays St. John Boatyard on a month-to-month basis.
Moorehead's daughter, Theodora Moorehead, said she's heard nothing from the Port Authority regarding St. John Boatyard's lease with the agency. But, she added, "You can't believe anything you hear."
Port Authority attorney Don Mills did not return a telephone call requesting comment.
Mohler said she would like to continue her marine business near Coral Harbor, but she'll have to see how things work out. "We don't know where the chips are going to fall," she said.
Others, too, remain in the dark about the proposed development. While rumors have circulated for years about the project, two members of the Moravian Church said there has been no formal announcement. Percell handled the case for the Moravian Church Council. He said the local church's pastor, Lillette George, and its board met recently on the matter but apparently did not get the word out to the church members.
George did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Church member Guy Benjamin was a bit put out Thursday about the lack of information. "And I went to church on Sunday," he said, bristling.
He said doesn't like big developments but would accept the idea if church and community members were involved in the planning.
Church member Alvis Christian said it is too early to state his feelings on the development. "There are questions that are going to come up," he said.
While Percell said that he would "try" to maintain the ballfield in its entirety, Christian said the sports facility is not open to negotiation.
The ballfield, which sees regular and ad hoc play, has been there longer than anyone alive today, Christian said, and "it's sentimental."
Another issue will be the impact of development on the East End infrastructure, including the narrow Centerline Road that provides the only access to Coral Bay.
"Clearly there is no infrastructure in Coral Bay or even on St. John to support a development of that size," Sharon Coldren, Coral Bay Community Council president, said. She also is concerned that the proposed density is not in keeping with Coral Bay's character.
And while an infusion of money would be welcome, Mohler said, she doesn't want it to come at the environment's expense.
Percell said he has put the word out about the proposed development in order to gather community input. "It's good public relations to bring the project forward," he said.
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