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July 8, 2003 – The company planning to redevelop the derelict Yacht Haven Hotel and Marina came back Tuesday with both barrels blazing in response to a citizen group's appeal Monday of the firm's Coastal Zone Management permit covering several acres of adjacent landfill as well as the existing property.
The redevelopment plans "are on indefinite hold" until the permit appeal is resolved, a release from Insignia Nautica, parent company of the local developer, IN-USVI, stated.
"We are very disheartened by the appeal, as we had planned to begin demolition in a matter of days," Andrew Farkas, chief executive officer of Insignia Nautica, said. "It is truly unfortunate that Helen Gjessing, Judith Bourne and the Save Long Bay Coalition waited until the 11th hour to bring this to the Board of Land Use Appeals. We hope [to] continue to pursue economic and waterfront development for the people of the Virgin Islands, but we are saddened that progress and financial growth for the territory has once again been needlessly slowed."
(For the coalition's explanation of its lawsuit, see "Yacht Haven leasing appealed to land use board".)
IN-USVI is proposing to raze the existing Yacht Haven structures and build a new hotel and marina as part of a tourism-oriented complex. The company also has leased some seven acres of adjacent Long Bay landfill from The West Indian Co. for development of shopping and other facilities and a walkway from the hotel complex to downtown Charlotte Amalie. It also has leased certain submerged lands in Long Bay from the V.I. government for the marina redevelopment.
In May, the Senate ratified and the governor signed a single CZM permit for the overall project development. (See "Senate approves submerged lands lease".)
Proceeding without landfill proposed, rejected
Gjessing, Save Long Bay Coalition president, emphasized Monday that the group is not challenging the hotel and marina revitalization. Rather, she said, it is asking the Board of Land Use Appeals to separate the filled land from the overall development permit so that the hotel and marina work can proceed while another CZM permit is sought for the filled land. Public hearings on the application would be required, and if a new permit is approved, Gjessing said, the coalition is asking that it be for no more than 20 years.
Farkas said Tuesday that separating the landfill from the hotel property is impossible from IN-USVI's development perspective. "Our plans are comprehensive and inextricably linked," he said. "We cannot build the marina without the esplanade and the stores, or the hotel without the park and the fountain. It is basic business sense that you cannot have the parts without the whole."
WICO agreed to lease the landfill to IN-USVI for 90 years. The submerged lands lease was also made for 90 years to facilitate efforts to obtain financing for the redevelopment project.
In Tuesday's release, Farkas argued, as he did before the Legislature in May, that Insignia Nautica had done its research in the more than two years leading up to the Senate vote and that the arguments raised in opposition to its plans are without legal merit. He charged that the Save Long Bay Coalition's action "appears to be a frivolous appeal intended solely to delay the project and hamper the economic development of the Virgin Islands."
The coalition, like legislative legal counsel Yvonne Tharpes, claims the government may not lease property for a period greater than 20 years. IN-USVI, however, cites a 1986 Territorial Court ruling that WICO as a semi-autonomous corporation is "not subject to laws limiting leases of government land to 20-year terms." IN-USVI said further that land leased from WICO is not legally "trust land," as it was wholly transferred to WICO with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 1989 that WICO as the holder of title could lease the land to a private party.
The IN-USVI release expressed dismay "that such a small group of people with such narrowly defined interests would seek to block the long-anticipated redevelopment of the Charlotte Amalie waterfront." Farkas questioned "whether even one of the members of the Save Long Bay Coalition actually resides in Long Bay." They "are not the people that have to live with this eyesore," he said, referring to the derelict Yacht Haven complex.
The heavy-handed approach is nothing new for Farkas. He similarly took aim at Tharpes in May when she challenged the legality of the submerged lands leasing. In a letter to Senate President David Jones, he accused her of inaccuracy, inconsistency, legal error and anti-business bias. Two days later, the Senate, in a special session called by the governor, ratified an agreement between IN-USVI and the government to lease the filled and submerged lands, even as officials agreed that Tharpes was correct in saying the move was contrary to law.
What exactly is planned
In Tuesday's release, IN-USVI promised "a safe, educational, entertaining and beautiful venue in which to work, shop, play and relax" that will include dinghy dock access, relocation of existing legal moorings, mandatory recycling and environmental monitoring within the marina. At the request of CZM, the release states, IN-USVI "will pay for and provide space for historical displays regarding the history of Charlotte Amalie."
According to IN-USVI, the redevelopment will include "guest accommodations, commercial space, parking facilities and a boardwalk-style esplanade linking the Yacht Haven area with historic Charlotte Amalie," as well as state-of-the-art marina facilities that will pave the way for the territory's re-emergence "as the yachting capital of the Eastern Caribbean."
IN-USVI also will "pay for and build a public park, complete with a tot lot, picnic areas and an outdoor amphitheater for local performers," the release stated.
The company projects that more than 500 persons will be employed in the initial 18 months of construction and that the completed project will provide 600 permanent jobs. It further projects that the V.I. government stands to gain $7.6 million in new revenues in the project's first year of operation.
Meanwhile, the release noted, IN-USVI's Yacht Haven mural-painting project got under way Tuesday, with about 20 youngsters beginning work on decorating a barrier wall erected around the hotel property in preparation for demolition of the buildings that have stood mostly abandoned since Hurricane Marilyn damaged them nearly eight years ago.

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