July 30, 2003 – Although the Board of Land Use Appeals voted unanimously on Tuesday to reject the Save Long Bay Coalition's challenge of a development permit covering filled land adjacent to the former Yacht Haven Hotel, work on the project won't go forward so long as there is a possibility that the group may appeal the decision, a spokesman for the developer says. And the coalition hasn't made up its mind yet.
Judith Bourne, coalition attorney, said on Wednesday: "We really have to consider the problems that delaying the development would cause."
Elie Finegold, executive vice president of Insignia Nautica and spokesman for its local subsidiary, IN-USVI, the Yacht Haven developer, said he's especially concerned about the impact of delays on the planned marina development.
Finegold said on Wednesday that he had planned and hoped to have the 160-slip marina in partial operation by next season – late 2004. But time "is getting tighter and tighter," he said.
There are "10 times as many yachts in the water" today as there were 10 years ago, he said, and it has always been the goal of IN-USVI to bring that very lucrative industry back to the territory. "It is staggering how much has been lost and how much the industry has grown," he said.
Citing the luxury yachts tied up on the St. Thomas waterfront during season, he said the industry has "enormous potential."
Coalition not against hotel redevelopment
One of the Save Long Bay Coalition's concerns is the long-term impact and viability of the project. "We want to see the short-term jobs created," Bourne said, "but we have to look at the long term, too."
Coalition members have repeatedly said they are not against the redevelopment of the dilapidated hotel and marina complex; they oppose only the commercial development planned for the adjacent landfill, which Bourne said could hurt Main Street businesses or could end up derelict or under-used.
Another concern raised by the coalition is the leasing to IN-USVI of the filled land by WICO and submerged lands in Long bay by the government for up to 90 years. The group argues that by law trust lands can be leased for no more than 20 years.
But the objection taken by the coalition before the Board of Land Use appeals was of the issuance of a single Coastal Zone Management permit for both the existing hotel property and the filled land. The coalition argued that a separate permit, one requiring additional approvals, was needed for the landfill because it is public trust land.
The filled land, created when the St. Thomas harbor was dredged in 1986, is owned by The West Indian Co., which has leased it to IN-USVI for up to 90 years. WICO is a private corporation that is wholly owned by the V.I. Public Finance Authority. The PFA was created in the Farrelly administration as a semi-autonomous agency primarily for the purpose of raising public revenues through the issuance of government-backed bonds.
IN-USVI contends that the filled land is privately owned, citing a 1989 Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a District Court ruling to that effect in a case brought by the coalition in 1987 relating to the harbor dredging. However, coalition members now note, WICO was owned by Danish interests at that time; in 1993 it was purchased by the V.I. government.
Finegold said the cost of construction on St. Thomas coupled with the enormous cost of developing the infrastructure for the project necessitated spreading the expenses across a number of components, including the planned shopping and office complex slated for the seven-acre stretch of filled land.
Bourne said the coalition has never been satisfied with IN-USVI officials' insistence that they must include the commercial development in order for the project to be economically viable.
Broad support for redevelopment

Finegold pointed out that the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce is in full support of the project, despite concerns about competition for downtown shops.
Public support has been pretty much across the board. From the time the coalition filed its appeal, letters and statements flew around the island in support of the project and condemning the coalition for its action.
Privately, community activist groups that normally fall in line with the coalition's position and vice versa scrambled to disassociate themselves from the action. Members of the League of Women Voters and the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John were adamant that they were not part of the appeal, although none of the members wanted to be quoted.
Finegold is just as adamant now that the whole project will remain in limbo until the potential for any appeal disappears.
Demolition of the existing structures, left in ruins by Hurricane Marilyn eight years ago, will cost "millions of dollars," Finegold said, especially because of environmental considerations. He said it would not make financial sense to spend that kind of money on top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars already expended locally until all potential roadblocks have been removed.
Once they have been, Feingold said, "we plan to be in St. Thomas for a long, long time."
The hearing process Tuesday was "impressive," according to Finegold. Board members in attendance were Fred Vialet Jr., who served as acting chair, José Penn, John P. Woods, Reginald A. George and Aloy Wentworth Nielsen.
Penn explained Wednesday night that it was not the task of the board to decide whether a permit should have been issued, but only to determine if the agency under its scrutiny had acted properly. "We didn't see where the CZM made any errors," he said.
Penn said the board took the view that the filled land is no longer public trust land, because it was deeded to WICO "years ago." He noted that the Public Finance Authority has oversight for WICO. "I am not a lawyer," he said, but the PFA is "one of those outside agencies," too.
The appeals board also lifted the stop-work order that it had imposed when the coalition filed its appeal. The developers thus are now free to go forward with the project, although according to Finegold things will remain on hold unless and until the coalition decides not to pursue any further action.
Bourne said she is still looking into where to file an appeal and what the ramifications would be before deciding whether to take the coalition's challenge any further.

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