On Tuesday, at its first ever meeting held by teleconferencing, the St. John Committee of Coastal Zone Management unanimously approved two permits – with a number of conditions – to allow the Lovango Cay Beach Club and Resort to move forward with construction.
The approved permits will allow the resort owners to construct a new 1,900 square-foot building to house ZoZo’s H2O, the popular restaurant that opened in early February and was shut down only weeks later by the coronavirus pandemic. The building that previously housed ZoZo’s will be converted to a reception area for arriving guests.
Resort owner Mark Snider said because of delays caused by the pandemic, construction of a series of pools for beach club guests will be put on hold. But he expects other club facilities outlined in the CZM permit application will be up and running by December. These include a shop, café, snack bar, bathrooms, staff housing and a sandy lounge area located above the line of vegetation.
The permit approved by the STJ-CZM Committee also allows resort owners to build four tents for overnight guests on the north side of the island as well as upgrade the resort’s reverse osmosis water plant, septic system and solar array.
The STJ-CZM Committee voted to allow these improvements to move forward under their current R-1 (low density residential) zoning, which includes a country club as one of its permitted uses. With only the restaurant open, Lovango Cay has been able to operate as a country club, but the developers can’t build the beach club and resort facilities without a zoning change.
The resort owners are now seeking a zoning change from R-1 to Planned Area Development, a seldom used zoning category which would allow them to build 70 overnight tent and cottage units and sell lots for private homes that will become part of the resort’s rental pool.
Planned Area Development zoning allows the developers to site the cottage and tent units in clusters, rather than construct them in big blocks or scatter them on individual lots throughout the property. PAD zoning requires that developed areas cover only five percent of the resort’s property, which includes about 42 acres of the 118-acre island.
A zoning change, however, requires approval by the V.I. Senate as well as the governor, a process that could take weeks if not months to enact. The STJ-CZM Committee’s actions on Tuesday allows the resort developers to move forward on the facilities for the beach club while the Senate debates the merits of a zoning change for the hotel portion.
The committee also set forth a number of other restrictions for the resort, including the submission to the committee of a new plan for lighting and landscaping and copies of permits for updated reverse osmosis and wastewater discharge facilities. Another condition clarified mandatory reporting of any new archaeological discoveries with the State Historic Preservation Office.
The STJ-CZM Committee also approved a transfer of a permit for a passenger dock at Lovango Cay from the Marcus Trust, which sold much of the property to the current resort owners. Committee member David Silverman said the existing permit for the dock had to be amended because it included an express provision that no commercial use would be allowed.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the committee voted to allow Lovango Holdings to use the dock for six months during which they must conduct an analysis of the commercial use impacts and any necessary modifications to make the dock safe for commercial use.
Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted more than two hours, included long gaps for videoconference viewers while committee members met with CZM staff separately in an online “breakout room.”
Towards the end, STJ-CZM Chairman Andrew Penn thanked participants for their patience and willingness to cope with the unexpected elements of teleconference meetings.
“The world has changed in the last two months,” he said.
Penn also delivered words of caution to the developers of Lovango Cay.
“If you plan any changes, you must be transparent and let us know. We welcome you, but we want to make sure you respect the community and do what you say you’ll do,” he said.
“We will do as we say, I promise you that,” Snider said.
In place of a gavel, Penn “banged” a rolled-up newspaper to end the meeting.
CZM Attorney Anita Nibbs told viewers they can contact the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to receive email copies of the approved documents. She then joked, “Get home safely.”