Thirty or so disappointed, if not outright exasperated, St. John residents left a meeting of the Coastal Zone Management Commission on Thursday evening without knowing what the commission's decision was on the Pond Bay Project.
St. John CZM commission chairman Julien Harley opened the meeting about 20 minutes after the scheduled time of 4 p.m. saying, "This morning I got a letter from the developers (First American Development Group/Carib Limited Partnership) …asking to remove their application." Harley quickly explained it was permissible under the law for an applicant to temporarily remove an application from active consideration for "not less than 21 days."
Commission member Brion Morrisette added the law only allowed for one withdrawal.
Both commissioners were at a loss to answer some of the initial questions posed by attendees because CZM legal counsel Julita K. de Leon had not arrived yet, the reason for the delayed start.
The meeting had been called earlier in the month to announce a decision on the $27 million hotel and time share project that has been vehemently opposed by a group of Chocolate Hole homeowners. This was the second time the decision had been delayed. The first time was Feb. 15. Morrisette explained after the meeting that the last postponement was allowed by the applicant "as a courtesy to give both CZM and the applicant more time" to review the matter rather than to allow the approval to be given by "default."
The CZM commission, he said, had 30 days from the time of the public hearing to render a decision. If the commission had made no decision at that time, the application would automatically have been approved.
Of the approximately three dozen people in attendance Thursday, 85 percent own property on the hillsides above the proposed project, according to one attendee, Lisa Durgin.
Several questioned the motives of the applicant. Doris Jadan, who does not live in Chocolate Hole, said the delay "serves only the applicant. Suppose it hadn't been an all-white well-to-do community?"
Another man said, "I'll give odds they'll come back this summer when all these people are gone," referring to the assembled group.
Harley dismissed the concerns, saying, "The permit is approved or denied based on its merits. That has not changed."
De Leon said any changes to the plan would require a new application. She also said none of Thursday's discussion would go into the file. "At this point the file is closed. The commission is waiting to make an announcement."
Neither de Leon nor Harley could say when that announcement would be made, though Morrisette said the group had come "prepared to make a decision." But since there was no application, there could be no decision.
In answer to repeated questions about whether there was a time limit on the application withdrawal, both de Leon and Morrisette said they would have to research the code.
Morrisette said they were dealing with "a section of the code that we've never had to deal with."
Morrisette also said, "It is in their (the developer's) interest to get it back on track. Time is money."
The project's plans call for 62 apartments in 22 buildings on a 13-1/2 acre parcel of land.
Also included in the project are two tennis courts, two swimming pools, offices and maintenance buildings, a restaurant and bar. The developers have also proposed building an air-conditioned library on the property for St. John residents.
For a story on the public hearing on Pond Bay click here.