June 26, 2004 – Coral Bay residents on Saturday began marshaling their forces to fight a proposed Moravian Church development in the heart of their small village. The development would include 150 hotels rooms, 200 condominiums, a 50-slip marina, a supermarket and office buildings.
The residents plan to write letters, circulate petitions and hold events as yet undecided upon to let the Moravian Church hierarchy on St. Thomas and in Antigua know that this is not their vision for Coral Bay. They'll do the same with whatever developer the church leadership picks for the project.
The two dozen residents who gathered at the Flamingo Club are not opposed to development; their concern is with the large scope of the planned project.
"We can't stop development, but let's have responsible development," Cruz Bay resident Kim Lyons said. She said that while she does not live in Coral Bay, her family has roots in the area.
The Rev. Ray Joseph said Coral Bay needs a marina — and especially the pump-out facility that would come with it — but it doesn't need a 50-slip marina.
He said the 10 acres identified for the project is not large enough for a marina of that size. Others at the meeting couldn't fathom how the marina and the rest of the development could all fit into property that small
Except for a ballfield and about three acres across from it, the land lies mainly in a waterfront strip that runs behind Guy Benjamin School, the fire house and Skinny Legs Bar and Restaurant. Emmaus Moravian Church sits across the street. The church also owns acreage to the west and behind the church.
Moravian Church attorney Karl Percell has said that the church will "try" to keep the ballfield out of the development. The school and fire station are on land owned by the V.I. government. Skinny Legs is on private land.
Joseph until several years ago was the pastor at Emmaus Moravian Church. He said members of the congregation had long planned to develop the area but had in mind a retirement home behind the church. Also he said, the church wanted to sell some of the land to its members.
With the proposed commercial development, "the Moravian Church is forgetting about the little people," Joseph said.
Beulah Dalmida-Smith, who was Planning and Natural Resources commissioner in the Schneider administration and who is a member of the Emmaus congregation, pledged to fight the development plan. "We can stop anything," she told the Saturday gathering.
She said the Moravian Church Conference is in financial trouble and that the proposed development is its way of raising money — while giving Emmaus Church members no say in the plan.
Dalmida-Smith and Joseph were the only Emmaus members at Saturday's meeting. Also present were several members of the denomination's other congregation on St. John, Bethany Moravian Church, located east of Cruz Bay.
Harry Daniel, a Bethany member, said he and others met with Moravian Church officials several weeks ago. He said they were told not to worry about the rumors that had circulated for years about development plans for the church land in Coral Bay.
"The church said they will let us know. This is really shocking," he said.
Daniel later said that the meeting took place before the June 4 Territorial Court decision that gave the 1.3 acres long claimed by both the Moravian Church and the Port Authority to the church. (See "Moravian Church Plans Hotel, Condos, Marina, More".)
Many of those at the meeting said that it was particularly insulting to Emmaus Church members not to be told before the rest of the territory that the development was actually going forward. Much of the Coral Bay community was as shocked as Daniel when news about the proposed development got out.
Joseph and Coral Bay historian Guy Benjamin had scheduled Saturday's meeting before the court ruling became known, but it provided fodder for most of the discussion. Benjamin had announced the meeting as an effort to bring the West Indian community into a planning process recently begun by the Coral Bay Community Council.
"We do not have enough indigenous membership. We are trying to reach out to the community," Sharon Coldren, council president, said at the meeting.
Those present were about evenly divided between white transplants from the U.S. mainland and black West Indians with St. John roots that go back centuries.
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