The Board of Land Use Appeals upheld a minor permit granted to John Patrick Yob, the owner of Maho Crossroads, to operate a “tiki bar” at Maho Bay on private land within the boundaries of Virgin Islands National Park.
The decision, reached during an online meeting Friday, means that no public hearing will be held to discuss the environmental impacts of the popular tourist destination on St. John’s north shore.
St. John resident David Silverman, acting as a private citizen, had appealed the Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ issuance of a minor Coastal Zone Management permit last summer.
Although Silverman’s appeal listed a number of concerns, his primary argument was that the cost of the structures at the site amounted to more than $75,000, the threshold at which an application to Coastal Zone Management must be considered as a major permit. Major permits undergo more extensive scrutiny and require a public hearing as well as approval by a local board of commissioners.
Silverman contended that the costs of the development’s bar, storage, food truck, wastewater system, bathroom trailer, above-ground water storage containers, solar panels, parking areas, and taxi turnarounds exceeded the $75,000 limit. Additionally, he argued that DPNR Commissioner JP Oriol “acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner” when he granted the minor permit.
The permit for Maho Crossroads has been a matter of controversy since soon after it opened in 2019.
Although there was some discussion of the cost and nature of structures on the property, the board ruled to uphold the permit on another matter entirely – the question of when a permit becomes “fully executed.”
After more than two years of negotiations, DPNR finally granted the permit on June 8, 2021. John Yob signed the permit and returned it to DPNR on July 3, 2021. David Silverman filed his appeal on Aug. 2, 2021.
The law states that an appeal must be filed within 45 days of the issuance of a permit. Public notice must be given to neighboring property owners when the permit is fully executed.
The Board of Land Use Appeals interpreted the law to mean that June 8 was the date that DPNR executed the permit, so Silverman’s Aug. 2 appeal fell beyond the 45-day limit allowed for an appeal.
Board Chair John Woods pointed out that any applicant could simply wait 45 days after receiving a permit signed by DPNR before signing it himself, and neighbors would never know that the permit had been granted until after the appeal period had passed.
In spite of this concern, the board interpreted the law to mean that June 8 was the date that the permit became “fully executed.” They voted unanimously to deny Silverman’s appeal.
In the last year, another controversial St. John project received a permit because of a question of timing. The owner of Cowgirl Bebop, a 120-foot floating lounge planned for Pillsbury Sound – was granted a CZM permit “by operation of law” because DPNR did not rule on the permit within the allotted time
At Friday’s meeting about Maho Crossroads, Board of Land Use Appeals members ended their discussion after learning that DPNR officials had included special conditions within the permit in response to comments by the superintendent of the Virgin Islands National Park. The limitations include restrictions on amplified music and lighting that might interfere with nesting turtles at nearby Maho Bay beach.
Following the hearing, John Patrick Yob, the owner of Maho Crossroads, told the Source, “We appreciate the commissioners repeatedly expressing support for DPNR’s decision to grant our permit and rejecting the arguments that could have forced Maho to look more like the disputed area in Coral Bay. The conclusion of this matter today allows us to finally finish cleaning up our property, provide adequate parking, allow people to keep their jobs, pay associated taxes, and assist the taxis in effectively serving visitors.”
David Silverman said, “It was unfortunate that BLUA chose to dismiss the appeal on a technicality – and an incorrect technicality at that. It seems as if they didn’t want to decide on the real substantive issues in the appeal and found an easy way out.”
“The law is clear, ” Silverman continued. “The time period for filing an appeal begins when the permit is “final and conclusive as to the applicant” and not when it is signed by DPNR. That point begins when the applicant signs the approved permit. The appeal was filed 26 days after the permit was signed by John Yob, well within the allowed 45 day time period.”
“DPNR refused to send the permit to me until it had been returned by Yob. So, as Chairman Woods correctly noted, if an applicant simply sits on an approved permit for 45 days, it would be impossible to file an appeal by this reasoning. Clearly, this is not what the law intended. We expect the judiciary to be fair arbiters, but that fairness appeared to be lacking today,” Silverman said.