The permit submitted by Summer’s End Group, LLC to develop a marina and retail complex in Coral Bay, St. John has been deemed invalid by the Virgin Islands Legislature.
On Dec. 10, 2019, Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. sent a letter to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. outlining concerns that were aired at a Senate Committee of the Whole meeting on St. John on Oct. 28, 2019.
In the letter, Francis stated, “After an exhaustive review of documentation submitted, it has been determined that the 33rd Legislature is presently unable to take action on this permit as it is considered defective. Accordingly, Major Coastal Zone Management Permit No. CZJ-04-14 (W) and the accompanying documents are being returned to your office.”
The letter to the governor outlined the Senate’s concerns, including an issue involving a 2019 modification of the permit that was never approved by the St. John Committee of Coastal Zone Management, and discrepancies between the original permit and the proposed project as it stands now.
“In short, the project as currently proposed by Summer’s End Group, LLC cannot be developed. … It is the consensus of the Legislature that the marina project proposed by Summer’s End Group, LLC has not been submitted for CZM review, thereby rendering the permit and all related processes invalid. When a new, valid, consolidated land and water permit for the marina project has been transmitted for the Legislature’s ratification, I assure you that the 33rd Legislature will act promptly,” the letter concluded.
The marina project, officially named the St. John Marina and Yacht Club at Summer’s End, has generated controversy since it was first made public in 2014.
Throughout the years, the developers have changed their concept considerably, scaling back plans for a mega-yacht marina, luxury retail shops and upscale villas and condos.
In its most recent proposal, the plan includes a marina with 144 slips (including an area for mega-yachts), a restaurant, laundry facilities, a market for local farmers and fishers, sewage pump-out facilities and a building for Customs and Border Protection.
When asked to comment about the Senate president’s letter, Chaliese Summers, one of the principals of the proposed project said only, “We believe that your information is perhaps outdated. We continue to move the project forward. We have no further comment at this time.”
Opponents of the project, however, see the Senate’s letter as quite possibly the end of Summer’s End. The Senate’s action provides a basis for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to change the status of Summer’s End Group’s application from “suspended” to “denied.”
On Jan. 7, 2020, a law firm representing 19 residents who oppose the project sent a letter to Kelly Egan, the project manager overseeing the application submitted by Summer’s End to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In the letter to Egan, Robert D. Fox, an attorney for Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox, LLP, said, “The proposed project remains fatally flawed after almost six years and SEG’s [Summer’s End Group’s] dilatory behavior in responding to the Corps’ request for additional information and studies.”
Fox’s letter cited regulations that require Summer’s End Group to have a valid CZM permit (from the territory) before the (Federal) Army Corps can issue theirs. He said the Legislature’s Dec. 10 letter “informed SEG and the Governor of the Virgin Islands that SEG’s CZM permit is both procedurally and substantially ‘defective’ and the defect ‘cannot be resolved.’”
“Based on the invalidity of the CZM permit, the project SEG currently proposes to the Corps in the application is not the subject of any approved or pending CZM permit or application. Therefore, I respectfully request that the Corps deny the application,” Fox’s letter concludes.
If the Army Corps denies the permit, Summer’s End Group would be forced to start over in applying for permits for the proposal. The application would have to go before the St. John CZM Committee, and it’s likely that the developers would have a much tougher time getting the project approved this time around.
When the Summer’s End Group originally went before the STJ-CZM Committee in 2014, there were two vacancies on the five-member committee. One of the three remaining members had to recuse himself from ruling on the proposal because of potential conflicts of interest; as a result, the decision to approve the proposal was made by only two individuals.
This year, however, the committee has five members, and it’s likely that some of the newer members would not vote favorably for the project. (One of the members started an online campaign which resulted in more than 15,000 letters and emails written in opposition to the project; these letters and emails were sent to the Army Corps by residents, visitors and members of conservation organizations.)
Following the STJ-CZM Committee’s approval in 2014, two appeals were filed in November 2014 with the Board of Land Use Appeals (BLUA) – one by the Virgin Islands Conservation Society (VICS) and one by the Moravian Church Conference. (The Moravian Church Conference of the Virgin Islands has leased 11 acres of waterfront property to a private developer for a condominium and marina complex across the bay from the proposed Summer’s End marina.)
The appeals pointed out many significant defects in the application documents, permit documents and approval process.
A partial list of the grounds for appeal included (a) lack of requisite legal interest, (b) lack of authorization by property owners, (c) conflicts of interest on the CZM Committee, (d) failure to consolidate the land and water permits as required by code, (e) excessive size of the marina, impacting other land owners and (f) failure to adequately consider impacts on water quality and environmental impacts.
The situation is further complicated by legal disputes involving long-term leases for four parcels of land on which Summer’s End intended to build the shore-based portion of the project.
These disputes, which came to light at the Oct. 28 Senate hearing, have not been resolved. The owners of the properties are not able to develop or use the land for other purposes until their leases with Summer’s End have been terminated.