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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 16, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsSapphire’s SeaSalt Spurs CZM Contention

Sapphire’s SeaSalt Spurs CZM Contention

A Sapphire Bay condo owner called hurricane-repair permits that morphed into a new rooftop restaurant, “bologna.” (Submitted photo)

Richard Cosse got a surprise when visiting his Sapphire Beach condo a few months ago. Instead of hurricane repairs to the Seagrape building, he found instead a new rooftop restaurant, SeaSalt.

Cosse and a few neighbors had a strained relationship with the complex’s ownership, Beachside Associates, having been in litigation over unrelated property concerns since 2007. So, he dug into permits filed with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

Plans presented to Coastal Zone Management in 2019 did call for rooftop development, replacing steel canopies and reinventing the upper area as an “activity deck.” By mid-2020, the permit was approved with no mention of a second-floor restaurant. Cosse complained in a letter to DPNR, the Lt. Governor’s Office, and other officials. Cosse wanted the restaurant closed, saying taking the matter to court would be a last resort.

“All this was done under the guise of, ‘We’re repairing what the hurricanes took away.’ And, in fact, it’s a lot of bologna,” he said this week.

The new restaurant added stress on the property’s shared wastewater treatment plant, created additional light and noise, and could create beachside cleanup problems, Cosse said. It also was not Americans-with-Disabilities-Act complaint.

An older application, predating Beachside’s ownership of the building, had asked for a permanent second story on the structure but was denied because it impeded surrounding views.

Although Cosse acknowledged his view was not obstructed by SeaSalt and he didn’t actually mind having a new restaurant, he was aghast at what he described as permit sidestepping. What would stop developers from trampling other rules meant to ensure responsible land use, he asked.

Dean Morehouse, owner of Beachside Associates since 2001, was not surprised to hear of his longtime legal combatants’ complaints. Morehouse had spent more than $2 million defending legal disputes over the wastewater plant and other issues of contention with the group of neighbors, he said.

“The normal suspects. We have a case against that group but we’re all square with DPNR,” Morehouse said. “They have all our plans. We’re all good.”

The minor permits applied for, which did not mention the restaurant, were issued by mistake, he said.

“Our contractor messed up there. We ended up paying a fine,” Morehouse said.

That fine was $6,000, said Jamal Nielsen, special assistant to DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol.

“It was investigated and found that they had exceeded the scope of the permit and had enclosed an area on the second floor to include a kitchen and bar area and storage, clearly exceeding the scope of the permit,” Nielsen said.

In addition to the fine, Beachside had to apply for a modification. The modification was allowable, he said, because zoning for that parcel allows for restaurant heights of up to three stories.

The V.I. Code is very specific about penalties for people who violate zoning and building regulations but largely did not apply in the SeaSalt case, DPNR said.

Oriol himself wrote to Cosse explaining the scope of work had not changed the building’s footprint and did not break any zoning rules.

“The alterations were on the interior of an existing structure, so not required to submit these changes for approval,” Oriol wrote in February. “We will not be seeking to close the restaurant as we go through the administrative process for the violation.”

Morehouse said he didn’t know what caused the continued pushback from Cosse and neighbors.

“I have no idea. It’s only increased the value of their homes and we’re getting good reviews, and I don’t really know,” he said.

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