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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, January 28, 2023
HomeNewsLocal governmentThree Developments May Determine the Future of Coral Bay – Part 1

Three Developments May Determine the Future of Coral Bay – Part 1

Photo of Coral Bay harbor shows site of Summer’s End marina on the right. (Photo by Elizabeth Escardo)
This photo of Coral Bay harbor shows site of Summer’s End marina on the right. (Photo by Elizabeth Escardo)

They say that good things — and bad things — come in groups of three. With respect to the plan to build a 144-slip mega-yacht marina in Coral Bay on St. John, there seems to be some truth to this superstition.

In the last several weeks, there have been three significant developments in the long-running battle to construct the Yacht Club at Summer’s End, also known as the St. John Marina.

Whether these three developments are good or bad depends on one’s view of the project that will irrevocably change the character of the rural community of Coral Bay.

A brief listing of the three developments:

The most recent development is a lawsuit filed on Oct. 11 in the Federal District Court of the Virgin Islands by the Moravian Church Conference of the Virgin Islands. The Moravian Church is seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, permanent injunction, and declaratory relief against the developers of the Summer’s End marina.

The second development took place at the end of September when the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear a case filed by Save Coral Bay, a community group opposed to the marina. That case sought to review the decision by the Supreme Court of Virgin Islands, which affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit against Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. for his modifications of Coastal Zone Management permits for the Summer’s End Group’s planned marina. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision has wider implications for the Virgin Islands.

The third development was a letter sent by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Sept. 21  to the Summer’s End Group detailing an extensive list of studies that must be completed before the Army Corps can decide whether or not to issue a permit for construction.

The three recent developments — the Moravian Church lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Save Coral Bay’s case, and the Army Corp’s report to the Summer’s End Group — are interdependent events, but for the sake of clarity, the Source will provide details and links to explain each in a separate article.

PART 1: The Moravian Church Conference of the Virgin Islands’ lawsuit in District Court

In 2006,  T-Rex St. John LLC announced plans to build a marina, condominium/hotel and commercial development on property leased from the Moravian Church Conference of the Virgin Islands on the north side of Coral Bay harbor.

In 2015, T-Rex applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to build a marina, and in 2016 the church successfully petitioned for a zoning change to allow condominiums to be built along the shoreline in Coral Bay.

T-Rex, which later rebranded itself as Sirius Development LLC, was in the process of attending pre-application meetings and preparing permits to submit to Coastal Zone Management for its marina at the same time that the Summer’s End Group was developing its plans to build a marina.

In 2014, Summer’s End was granted a water permit and a separate land permit by CZM for their project located across the harbor from T-Rex/Sirius on the south shore of Coral Bay. These permits, however, were challenged by the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, an environmental organization, and Save Coral Bay, a community group that opposed the project.

The Moravian Church joined in on the challenge, claiming that Summer’s End’s plan would control nearly 28 acres of submerged lands in Coral Bay harbor, leaving insufficient space for vessels to access their proposed marina across the harbor.

“When the CZM committee ruled in Summer’s End’s favor, the Moravian Church filed a timely appeal with the Board of Land Use Appeals,” said Mark D. Hodge, the attorney representing the Moravian Church.

“When the Board of Land Use Appeals ruled in Summer’s End’s favor, the Moravian Church filed a timely petition in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands for a writ of review,” Hodge continued. “Each step was set forth in the CZM Act and the V.I. Code for challenging a permit application.”

That case in Superior Court is still pending, but it’s likely to be dismissed because the legal issues brought up in the suit are similar to those in the case filed by Save Coral Bay in the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands — which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to hear. (See Part 2 for a further explanation of that case.)

The Moravian Church’s case filed on Oct. 21 in the District Court of the Virgin Islands still maintains that “Summer’s End’s proposed marina would effectively prevent the development and/or viability of Plaintiff’s proposed marina by consuming virtually all navigable water in Coral Bay … and/or exhausting the market for marina services in Coral Bay.”

Whether Summer’s End would consume “virtually all of the navigable waters” has not been yet established by engineering studies (See Part 3) or argued within a courthouse, but a sketch of the two proposed marina plans prepared by Save Coral Bay does indicate congested conditions for marine traffic.

A sketch produced by Save Coral Bay shows the footprints of the Summer’s End Marina in red and the Moravian Church’s marina in black. (Rendering produced by Save Coral Bay)

The suit also contends that the Moravian Church’s rights under the Constitution and Revised Organic Act were violated when the V.I. Supreme Court made its ruling which Save Coral Bay sought to have reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Part 2 of this series) That ruling led to:

– A violation of the prohibition of laws abridging the Moravian Church’s right to petition the government for the redress of grievances. (In other words, they didn’t get a chance to tell their side of the story to make things right.)
– A violation of the Moravian Church’s due process rights as it bypassed ongoing and pending litigation and a statutory appeal process that was pending in the Superior Court. (In other words, they didn’t get their day in court.)
– A violation of the Moravian Church’s equal protection rights as the Summer’s End Group was granted a special immunity to the statutory appeal process for (and requirements of) the CZM Act applicable to everyone else. (In other words, Summer’s End got special treatment not permitted under the CZM Act.)
– A violation of the separation of powers as the Legislature divested the judiciary of its role in determining whether the CZM Act was violated in pending litigation. (In other words, the Legislature’s actions negated the job of the courts in the appeal process.)
– A violation of the Public Trust Doctrine by setting aside the safeguards and protections of the Coastal Zone Management Act for the submerged lands in Coral Bay harbor which both Summer’s End and the Moravian Church hoped to access. (In other words, the government “gave away the store” when they deeded public land to Summer’s End.)

In response to the lawsuit filed on Oct. 21, Boyd L. Sprehn, the attorney representing the Summer’s End Group, said the “newly filed case, with even less merit than its predecessors, is filed in a desperate attempt to delay the project.”

Sprehn continued, “The Moravian Church Conference does not have a competing marina proposal. Despite the allegation that the Conference ‘has been attempting to apply for and obtain a permit to construct a marina in Coral Bay for many years,’ it has in fact never filed for a Coastal Zone Permit with the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Commission — No such application is listed on DPNR’s public information.”

This rendering shows the footprint of the Summer’s End marina development as seen from the Moravian Church Conference’s property. (Rendering produced for Save Coral Bay)

Although there is no application on file at Coastal Zone Management for T-Rex/Sirius’ marina, representatives for the developer of the Moravian Church’s property did hold a series of town meetings from 2014 to 2016 to present their plans for a marina.

Rendering shows proposed T-Rex/Sirius marina and land development. (Rendering produced by Save Coral Bay)
This rendering shows the proposed T-Rex/Sirius marina and land development. (Rendering produced by Save Coral Bay)

Rory Calhoun, the managing member of Sirius Development LLC, told the Source in August 2020 that the developers chose to pursue a permit from the Army Corps, rather than seek permitting from local agencies “because the marina portion will customarily take longer than the upland portion.” The plan for the condominium portion was not included with the marina application to the Army Corps, partly because of a rezoning matter that was not resolved until the end of 2016, Calhoun said.

The Summer’s End’s plan was challenged because CZM approved separate permits for the land and water permits for the two portions of the development. It’s possible that Sirius Development wanted to avoid a similar prolonged battle and waited until the zoning matter was resolved before applying for one combined permit.

Map Geo photo of Coral Bay shows site of the Moravian Church Conference’s planned development.
This Map Geo photo of Coral Bay shows the site of the Moravian Church Conference’s planned development.

Sprehn said, “The [Moravian Church] Conference has had more than eight years to pursue it rights, and it has exercised its right to petition the government for the redress of grievances — repeatedly. The Conference simply does not like the answer it has been given.” He sent the Source a timeline for the series of events over the past eight years that led to Summer’s End’s obtaining and maintaining its CZM permit.

The Moravian Church “just doesn’t like the answers it has gotten from DPNR, the Coastal Zone Commission, the Board of Land Use Appeals, two governors, the Legislature, the V.I. Superior Court, the V.I. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court,” Sprehn said. “It wants to try again, at the expense of the jobs, economic opportunities and income of others.”

Hodge, the attorney for the Moravian Church responded, “No court has ever ruled on whether the Summer’s End Group complied with the CZM Act. By sidestepping the issue altogether via an Act with no right of appeal or environmental standards, the Constitution and Revised Organic Act were violated. It doesn’t matter how much the Summer’s End Group  ‘likes’ the result, it’s still unconstitutional.”

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