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CZM Committee Denies Permit Extension for Pond Bay Club

Sept. 19, 2006 The St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee Tuesday said no to a permit extension request made by First American Development Group/Carib, which planned to develop Pond Bay Club, located at Chocolate Hole, a bay on St. John's south shore.
First American received a CZM permit for the project on Feb. 15, 2002 (See "Pond Bay Club Gets CZM Nod With Conditions"). However, according to CZM Committee Chairman Julien Harley, that permit lapsed because construction did not start within one year.
"I think what you are asking is outside of our authority," Harley said, adding that granting an extension after the permit had lapsed would set a precedent that he opposed.
However, CZM Program Director Victor Somme III read a chronology of events relating to the project that included correspondence from the architect, the attorney for the project, and Planning Commissioner Dean Plaskett that ran through April 12. The list included a Jan. 13 letter from Plaskett to project attorney Paul Hoffman stating that "the department understood that work was continuing to develop the Pond Bay Club" and indicated the permit was "in full force and effect."
Harley said the CZM Committee didnt see it that way because construction didn't start. After a status meeting on June 19, the St. John Committee wrote to the CZM staff on July 6 that the permit had lapsed.
"Somebody dropped the ball," Harley said, while Somme said that "mistakes were made on both sides."
First American managing director Bob Emmett said after the meeting that he didn't know if the company would reapply for a permit. "I have to go back to the investors," he said.
Harley and Somme both pledged to do whatever they could to make the reapplication process go as quickly as possible. Somme said it could be completed before the end of the year.
The project has had troubles from the start. Another company started work in 1986 but failed to complete the job — leaving behind a big cistern and a denuded beach at Chocolate Hole.
First American took over the project in 1999. After neighbors vehemently opposed the project at a Jan. 15, 2001, public hearing, First American withdrew its initial CZM application. It reapplied but neighbors were again opposed at a Jan. 23, 2002, public hearing.
The plan as approved on Feb. 15, 2002 called for 56 units with 162 bedrooms and 121 parking spaces, all occupying 56,759 square feet of beachfront property with a setback of 60 feet.
However, Emmett said Tuesday that it had reduced the number of units to 50.
He and his attorney, Treston Moore, spoke about the hardship that would come if the CZM Committee failed to grant an extension.
"We are on the verge of commencing the actual work to put the structure in the ground," Moore said.
Emmett said the company had already expended $5 million on development work, has the financing lined up and has a $53 million contract ready to be signed with an unnamed local construction company.
In other matters, the CZM Committee agreed to hold a decision on Coral Bay Marina's request for changes to its permit conditions until Wednesday at a meeting already scheduled for another CZM permit application.
The CZM Committee initially seemed inclined Tuesday to allow most of Coral Bay Marina's request that the timing of the conditions imposed when the permit was granted Aug. 10 be changed from before the permit is issued to before construction starts (See "Coral Bay Marina Gets 'OK' With Conditions").
However, it appears the committee won't budge on the requirement that the company get a rezoning or a variance for the parcel of land where the sewage treatment plant will sit.
Coral Bay Marina attorney Brion Morrisette contended that the B-2 zoning is adequate.
The meeting bogged down over the requirement that Coral Bay Marina have an engineering firm, approved by the CZM Committee, certify that the docks could survive a Category 1 hurricane. The committee wants this certification before issuing the permit.
"This will open up an entirely new function of the committee. The CZM process does not require the details of the building. That's the building permit division," Morrisette, a former CZM Committee member, said.
The committee and the CZM staff agreed to come to a conclusion on that issue before the Wednesday meeting.
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