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Sunday, July 3, 2022


The Ritz-Carlton has applied for a CZM permit to build 24 hotel roomsa hotel and 24 two- and three-bedroom villas at what is known as Bluebeard's Beach at Great Bay on St. Thomas' East End. Not everyone likes the plan.
The height of the proposed five-story units, protection of salt ponds, parking lots to be built on R-1 zoned land, beach access and the problems attendant to huge generating units were the major concerns expressed by testifiers at a Coastal Zone Management Committee hearing Tuesday night.
Attorney Edith Bornn, speaking "as a Virgin Islander," said, "We don't build buildings that high. And we don't build them that close to the water."
Bornn, who is also on the board of the League of Women Voters, said, "Remember the developers of what is now Sapphire? They didn't want to provide adequate easement for access to the beach, so we took them to court."
Erva Denham, president of the League of Women Voters, said that the Environmental Assessment Report for the project was "not user-friendly." There were pages missing and maps and plans that were not included, according to Denham, who called the omissions "intentional obfuscation." The league's position was that the "deficiencies (in the EAR) are so severe" it should be rejected by the CZM.
Bornn said Wednesday she faulted Planning and Natural Resources for allowing the application to even go to the CZM given the deficiencies of the EAR.
William M. Karr, the architect on the project, said he and representatives of the Ritz-Carlton had anticipated concerns and addressed them. He said that beach access during construction would be barred due to OSHA regulations, but that the Ritz would spruce up Mueller Bay for use during that time. He said later access would be provided to the Great Bay Beach, known locally as Bluebeard's Beach.
Karr also said the structures would be at least 50 feet from the beach and greater than 50 feet from the salt pond.
Bornn responded to Karr's offer to use Mueller Bay by calling it "an insult." Bornn said the gritty dark sand at Mueller Bay could not be compared to the white sandy beach at Great Bay.
Karr also said the Ritz representatives had tried to meet with various groups on the island that they anticipated might have problems with the plan. He said some met with them and some didn't. He also said they sent letters to 12 residents of the immediate area surrounding the proposed project, inviting them to a meeting at the Ritz to lay out the plan. He said eight responded favorably, and they never heard from the rest.
One of the neighbors, Vernon Morgan, testified that the generator at the current Ritz-Carlton hotel, with the soot and noise it generates, has made his life "hell" for the last six years. Morgan said he had been trying to get a meeting for those six years with representatives of the hotel and finally did recently. "That is not good corporate citizenship," Morgan said.
Morgan also had concerns about beach access, saying, "I taught my three children to swim at that beach. Every morning I take a walk, I put down my chair on the beach. I am concerned I will not be able to do that once all those nice things are put up there."
Part of the plan includes parking lots in an area that is zoned residential. Morgan said, "I will only see automobiles forever in my front yard."
Bob Phillips, vice president of new business development for the Ritz, said they were prepared to spend $10 million to promote the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Stevie Henry, vice president of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas and St. John, agreed with the league's opinion.
"The application should not have been accepted as complete," Henry said, adding that the plan is inconsistent with CZM and Planning and Natural Resources law because it allows for development within 100 feet of high water on the beach, within 150 feet of a mangrove ecosystem and within 150 feet of a salt pond.
According to Henry one parking lot appears to be within 65 feet of one mangrove area and within 45 feet of another.
Henry also said the parking lot is illegal anyway because the area it is supposed to be built on is zoned R-1.
Both the league and EAST said they were not against the concept of the Ritz expanding to the Great Bay location, but suggested the application must be submitted and the plan be scaled back.
Editor's note: For the full text of EAST's testimony, see Community/Data.

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