Feb. 2, 2004 – Almost a year after a local environmental group appealed Coastal Zone Management approval of a major permit for Botany Bay Partners to build a $169 million resort on St. Thomas's West End, the appeal and the project appear to be at a standstill.
The project has a contentious history. In September 2002 the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee approved the permit against the recommendations of its own staff and amid stiff opposition from the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, the League of Women Voters, some senators and individual environmentalists.
Last March, EAST filed an appeal of the CZM permit approval, contending that the developer failed to survey nearby beaches adequately to determine the potential impact of the development on endangered wildlife. The appeal also questions the ability of the government to monitor and regulate sedimentation and erosion at the site.
Attorney Karin Bentz is representing EAST in the appeal. Delphine Farr, an attorney in Bentz's office, said she is puzzled that the process seems stalled. "You would think the developer would want to move this along; yet they haven't done a thing," Farr said on Monday. "I am curious why they aren't pushing CZM to certify the record."
For the appeal to progress, Farr said, the attorneys must know what CZM considered in making its decision. That means CZM must certify the enormous amount of paperwork relating to the project. However, all that's needed is "a draft certification of the record," Farr said. "It doesn't seem like a yearlong project."
When asked Monday about the delay, Botany Bay Partners attorney Henry Feuerzeig said that "everything is still being accumulated," adding that "other developments are taking place." He did not elaborate.
Lisa Sweet, an attorney in the offices of Dudley Topper and Feuerzeig, said on Monday that the office has responded in the case of "most of the documents we felt were missing." She declined to comment further since the matter is in litigation.
Attorney Henry Smock is to represent the government at the Board of Land Use Appeals hearing. Smock said he didn't know when the hearing would take place. "We are basically in a holding pattern until both parties are satisfied that the CZM record is complete," he said.
Carla Joseph, EAST president, said over the weekend that she considers the lack of forward movement in the appeal proceedings "very odd." "Other appeals — Yacht Haven's, for instance — have been filed subsequent to ours," she said. "Usually developers are more assertive in trying to move their concerns forward." (The board rejected the Save Long Bay Coalition's appeal of CZM approval for the Yacht Haven redevelopment last July; the coalition then took the case to court and ultimately the two parties reached a settlement.)
Joseph said there has been a "constant flow of correspondence" between EAST and the appeals board, asking it to certify the Botany Bay record.
Late in 2001, the Legislature approved and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed into law a rezoning request to allow the proposed $169 million development, including a 125-room hotel, 80 time-share units, 55 condominium units and about 40 residential lots. (See "Only developers defend Botany Bay plans".)
The League of Women Voters expressed concern at an April 2002 CZM hearing that "the impact of the total project on the existing ecosystem has not been adequately addressed" and that "full surveys of archaeological and marine resources" were lacking.
A league representative pointed out that Botany Bay reports in the CZM application were clearly labeled as "preliminary or cursory." The league recommended that the permit be denied or the that a decision be deferred until full environmental impact information was in hand. (See "Witnesses say hold off on Botany Bay project".)
Joseph said on Saturday that EAST is a member of the St. Thomas Conservation Society and the National Wildlife Federation, and both have offered support for the association's appeal.
The governor in his State of the Territory address a week ago hailed Botany Bay as one of several developments that would be a boon to the territory's economy.
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