Developer, Local Activists Spar Over Vessup, Muller Bay Plans

Lionstone Development is once again locking horns with environmentalists and local residents over development at Vessup and Muller bays.

Bruce Lazar, executive vice president of Lionstone Development, was on St. Thomas Wednesday to promote the project, which he claims will give local Vessup beachgoers a better beach and a say in how it should be improved.

But local environmentalists are not buying it.

When he appeared on the "Face to Face with Addie Ottley" show Wednesday night to unveil the drawings done by Springline Architects of St. Thomas, callers to the show were concerned about access and probable negative impacts on the local ecosystems.

Andrea King, board director/founder of the Red Hook Community Alliance, said she is arranging an hour of show time on "Face to Face" to “give us, the community, our time.”

“This community wants the beach the way it is,” she said. “We don’t want the land handed over to developers who have no concern or forethought about ecotourism … they will take away the ability of the average person to go to the beach without walking past a gated resort community. The flavor of the beach will be different and not welcoming.”

The alliance has led the Save Vessup Beach Campaign and reentered the battle after a November legislative reversal that removed the V.I. government’s eminent domain control of the beach and gave it back to Lionstone.

The design for the 27-acre area with two beaches includes improved road access, several public parking lots and public walkways to the beaches, public toilets and bathhouses, an inland marina, a boutique hotel with 120-130 rooms, low-rise residences and restaurants and shops, all to be built at a cost of approximately $150 million.

Tracy Roberts, principal of Springline Architects, says that the plan “creates a walkway to the beach that will be inviting and welcoming to the public." The plans do not show any gateway on the access walkway and Lazar says Lionstone will actively review concerns and suggestions like this. “We will have public beach facilities that include whatever it is the public wants,” he said.

King also noted fears about the possible environmental dangers of digging a canal and of overbuilding on recent East End developments.

Amy Claire Dempsey, president of Bioimpact, which conducted marine environmental assessment reports for the proposal, said that “the plans propose dredging the marina basin before opening to the sea and not opening the basin until the inside water quality is as good as the quality outside. They also incorporate means of maintaining water quality once the basin is opened … what happens once it is open is just as important as the actual construction and they would be required by permit to keep up the standards listed in the permit."

Regarding the economic viability, Lazar said they had done an economic study for the proposal but did not go into detail.

King and her group wonder whether such requirements will in fact be monitored to protect the bays, and they noted the partly completed projects in Red Hook and Cabrita Point as examples of development oversupply, visual blight and destroyed ecosystems.

After months of consultation with marine biologists and environmental engineers, the proposal is ready to be submitted to the Department of Natural Resources (DPNR) for an extensive review and discussion period during which changes will be made before a coastal zone management permit is considered for approval by a CZM commission, and finally by the V.I. Legislature.

The plans, once submitted, will be open for public comment and there will be a public hearing. During the review period, they will be examined by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard.

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