This is the first of two stories on the Summers End development proposed for Coral Bay, based on Monday’s Senate hearing. Part 1 covers permitting and land disputes raised in the Senate session.
After more than eight hours of often tense testimony, the Senate Committee of the Whole told developers of the proposed St. John Marina and the Yacht Club at Summers End to revise their permit application to reflect changes, since the original permit was approved in 2014.
The St. John Coastal Zone Management board approval of the plan to construct a 144-slip marina in Coral Bay with extensive adjacent shoreline development generated controversy when it was first approved.
Though some of the issues surrounding the development have shifted, Monday’s contentious discussion at the Legislative Annex in Cruz Bay was no less heated than other Summers End hearings. Questions about permitting, leasing disputes, pending legal action and the gentrification of Coral Bay overshadowed the usual concerns about overdevelopment and preserving the environment.
When the Summers End Group LLC applied to the Government of the Virgin Islands for its permits in 2014, it submitted separate applications for a water-use permit and a land-use permit.
A series of court challenges resulted in a ruling by the Board of Land Use Appeals to consolidate the two applications, since the two projects were interdependent. BLUA ruled that the developers should resubmit an application reflecting that change.
However, the permit that came before the Senate on Monday only concerned the development’s submerged land and water portions, and did not include the land-based portion.
“Why is only the water portion before us today?” asked Sen. Janelle Sarauw, after reading out loud the portion of the V.I. code that specified that the land- and water-use permits should be consolidated.
“Because only the water permit has to be ratified by the Legislature,” replied Marlon Hibbert, the recently appointed director of Coastal Zone Management.
Upon further questioning, Sarauw determined that the permit for the land portion “still involved issues.” No modifications had been made, and CZM had not received a request to review a revised permit, according to testimony.
Given that the law has not been followed, “This [meeting] is a waste of taxpayer dollars. It’s unconscionable,” Sarauw said.
As the Senate session continued, details complicating the land-use permit grew. Owners of three separate properties that are listed on the permit plan have withdrawn their commitment or challenged the Summers End Group through legal action. The disputes involve properties known locally as Voyages, Cocoloba and undeveloped land just north of what was Island Blues.
Parcels 13-A and 13-B (known for years as the site of the Voyagers Building and now as the Isola Shoppes) were under foreclosure in 2014 when Summers End Group signed options to purchase them from Merchants Commercial Bank. Subsequently, SEG let those options expire and developer Paul Sabers bought the properties in 2016.
Gaylin Vogel, an attorney for Paul Sabers, testified Monday that the current owner has no agreement with Summers End Group and asked the Senate to reject the proposed permit. She said a marina would “degrade the quality of life” for the present owner if it were built.
Under SEG’s current plan, parcels 13-A and 13-B were intended as sites for the marina’s sewage treatment plant, wastewater treatment facility, cisterns and parking. Without an agreement with Sabers, Summers End Group needs to specify new locations for these critical facilities and present the changes on their modified permit application.
Further, because these parcels were used to determine land trust fees paid to the territory, the modified permit must include a new fee schedule.
The owners of Parcel 13 Remainder, currently the site of Cocoloba Shopping Center, are also involved in litigation with SEG. James Phillips, the son of owners Jim Phillips and Genoveva Rodriguez, represented them at the Senate hearing but declined to discuss any details.
– Marsh Sisters Trust
More poignant testimony was given by members of the Clendenin family, who are disputing their agreement with Summers End Group.
In 2013, two sisters, Eglah Marsh Clendenin and Minerva Marsh – as trustees of the Marsh Sisters Trust – agreed to lease their undeveloped waterfront property to a group developing a marina. One of the principals in the project was Robert O’Connor Jr., a former V.I. senator and chairman of the board of directors for the Virgin Islands Port Authority. O’Connor is now one of the principal owners of Summers End Group, LLC.
The Marsh Sisters Trust agreed to lease parcels 10-17 and 10-18 in Estate Carolina for $65,000 a year. To date, no payment has been made to the trust.
In the years since then, the sisters have been in mental decline, according to Shena Esannason, granddaughter of Eglah Marsh Clendenin. “My grandmother and [great] aunt were asked to sign documents waiving payment until the permits were approved,” Esannason testified. Neither sister had legal counsel present at the time they signed these documents, she said.
“They placed their trust in Mr. O’Connor and Mr. [Brion] Morissette [who served as O’Connor’s attorney],” Esannason said tearfully. “Summers End Group took advantage of them. My family’s property is being held hostage. We ask your assistance in helping our family regain control of our property. We want out if through this process we can’t get justice.”
The situation has been made more complicated by a fire that destroyed all the records in the office of the family’s attorney, said Jacqueline Clendenin, Eglah’s daughter, who said she could serve as the current trustee.
The emotional testimony prompted several senators to urge generational Virgin Islanders to develop their land but to take precautions not to lose it in the process.
Possible Conflict with a Second Marina
The plan for the Summers End marina is only one of two marinas proposed for Coral Bay. The Moravian Church Conference of the Virgin Islands has leased 11 acres of waterfront property known as “the flats,” or the ball field, to T-Rex LLC, doing business as “Sirius,” for a resort and marina.
The T-Rex marina, which would include 90 condominium units and 89 slips for boats, is on the more protected northeast corner of Coral Bay harbor across from Summers End.
At Monday’s Senate hearing, Samuel Rhymer, the property manager for the Moravian Church Conference V.I., said the Summers End marina would “deprive the Moravian Church rights to full and equitable use of their land.”
Rhymer said that when the St. John Board of Coastal Zone management approved the permit for Summers End in 2014, “They did not give serious attention to our concerns. Summers End stretches to include the vast majority of navigable waters” and “impedes the rights of a littoral landowner to access water adjacent to its land and wharf out over it.”
Rhymer said the current SEG plan does not allow for a navigable channel to exist between the two projects, and the church has filed a lawsuit. He told senators, “If you approve this before the court’s adjudication, you’ll wipe out our access.”
Eulelencine Christopher, superintendent of the Moravian Conference V.I., said she was surprised when Chaliese Summers, one of the principals of Summers End Group, said they would be the only marina in Coral Bay. Christopher said the two development groups had met to discuss their projects.
“We thought we should work together. The two projects offer different opportunities,” Christopher said.