Aug. 16, 2004 – A subdivision development that appears to be in the works on Lovango Cay is raising questions as to why the developers don't have a major Coastal Zone Management permit when a similar development proposal got shot down in 1998 when it was denied such a permit.
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett danced around the matter on Friday by saying that issues such as these are decided on a case-by-case basis.
The developers have a minor permit. Such permits are granted without public scrutiny by the Planning and Natural Resources Department. A major permit requires public hearings and legislative action.
In 1998, on the recommendation of its staff, the St. John CZM Committee turned down a request for a major permit for Estate Lovango Ltd. to subdivide the option the company held on 44.25 acres on the island into 22 parcels. The CZM staff said Estate Lovango had failed to incorporate sufficient mitigation measures in its plans.
The Estate Lovango principals, John Ford, Jonathon Rusham and Michael Milne, all of St. John, said they planned to build homes on half-acre lots on 19 of the parcels, with the other three parcels to be used as common areas.
At public hearings on the planned development, residents expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of such dense development on offshore cays and about visual pollution.
The property is now owned by the Joseph John Markus, James A. Cannavino and Brett Oakes Trusts. When they bought the land as three separate parcels in 1999 for a total of $1.7 million, their St. Thomas attorney, Tom Bolt, told this reporter they planned to build homes for themselves.
Realtor Miles Stair, who owns Holiday Homes on St. John, said the Oakes family's plans to build a family home changed and the family is now offering to sell nine parcels of land at prices that range from $500,000 to $4.25 million through Holiday Homes. Most are half-acre lots, but one is 5.25 acres and another is 2.1 acres, which could be further subdivided.
Stair said the parcels are being offered contingent on the appropriate permits being granted. To date, Plaskett said, no applications for such permits have been submitted.
Bolt on Monday told a different story than Stair. He said from his St. Thomas office that the family plans to sell only one of the parcels, to fund infrastructure improvements. By putting multiple parcels on the market, potential buyers would have their pick of them, he said.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley, who chairs the St. John CZM Committee, said he fears that the developers are taking a "back-door" approach to subdividing the island. "There's always a loophole," he said.
The developers got in hot water at least twice with DPNR as they were constructing a dock on Lovango Cay. In 2002, Planning inspectors imposed a fine of $2.9 million on the Joseph John Markus Trust and the St. John-based barge company Boyson Inc. for damaging coral as it brought construction materials ashore. The trust also violated cease-and-desist orders. (See "CZM Lawyer Calls for More Lovango Fines" and "Work Resumes on Lovango Cay Dock".)
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