Estate Maho Plan Includes Dock, North Shore Rd. Relocation

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A wealthy New York couple is proposing to relocate North Shore Road away from Maho Bay beach, build a dock in Maho Bay and open the adjoining salt pond to the bay as part of plans to create a think-tank on a 440-acre V.I. National Park in-holding.

A wealthy New York couple is proposing to relocate North Shore Road away from Maho Bay beach, build a dock in Maho Bay and open the adjoining salt pond to the bay as part of plans to create a think-tank on a 440-acre V.I. National Park in-holding.
New York billionaires James and Marilyn Simons are currently in secret negotiations with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to acquire their interest in a St. Johnian family estate property which stretches from Maho Bay beach to five mountain tops comprising the historic Estate Maho Bay, according to Friends of the V.I. National Park President Joe Kessler.

Pristine Maho Bay Faces Development: The Maho Bay shoreline would face major changes in a billionaire couple’s plan to develop the historic Estate Maho property, including building a private dock near the existing pavilion, above, moving North Shore Road inland, opening the salt pond to the pristine bay and providing the public with foot-path access to the popular V.I. National Park beach.

The Simons’ development plans include an “undefined institute” on about 45 acres of land on or near the beach, a family compound on roughly 90 acres of land and homesites for the Simons’ heirs on approximately 42 acres, according to Kessler.
As the head of the non-profit and non-political pro-park orga-nization, Kessler is publicizing the secret negotiations in an effort to bring public attention to the potential development of the pristine property.
The heirs of Herbert Marsh own seven of the 11 undivided shares of the property, the NPS owns three of the shares and the TPL owns one share in addition to two parcels of land it recently acquired on the North Shore Road corners of the Marsh estate property.
Rumors have swirled around the future of the large parcel of unspoiled land after members of the Kean family of the Marsh heirs entered into since-abandoned negotiations with a local developer two years ago.
The Marsh heirs have been in litigation with the NPS to subdivide the property to make portions of the family land available for sale, but the case is pending.

Four-way Negotiation

Most recently the Simons have been negotiating with the Keans, the NPS and TPL, according to Friends President Kessler.
“Mr. Simons is attempting to purchase the remaining shares from the heirs of Herbert Marsh and has options on six of the seven shares,” Kessler said.
In addition to acquiring the NPS and TPL shares of the land, the Simons have a number of conditions which include diverting the North Shore Road so it does not run by Maho Bay beach, construction of a private dock in the bay and draining wetlands in the area, according to Kessler.
“The NPS and the TPL would cede their shares of the land to the Simons and in return the Simons will put 240 acres in a conservation easement,” said Kessler adding that the 240 acres to be conserved includes the 160 acres currently owned by NPS and TPL.”

Conservation Easement

A conservation easement is “a legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future,” according to the Nature.org Web site.
However, the legality of the Nature Conservancy’s conservation easements have recently been challenged.
“Simons putting part of the land in a conservation easement could be tenuous protection, especially land that should be protected in perpetuity,” said the Friend’s president.

Plan To Divert Road at Maho

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A 440-acre privately-owned property in the V.I. National Park at Estate Maho Bay could be developed in a plan which includes building a private dock into Maho Bay and relocating the North Shore Road away from the beach, allowing the public access by footpath.

The Simons’ second demand is to divert the North Shore Road at Maho Bay to run behind the wetlands and build a parking lot and foot path for beach access.
“Maho Bay is by far the most convenient beach to access for people with disabilities and the elderly because it is flat and so close to the road,” Kessler said.
Maho Bay has historically been an easily accessible beach and any change to that would anger the entire St. John community, Kessler continued.
“Any attempt to impede access at Maho Bay by diverting the road is one of the few things that would unite the entire community and the Friends would be honored to lead the protest,” said Kessler. “This is shocking in its audacity.”
The North Shore Road should not be part of any negotiations because it is not owned by the NPS, the TPL or the Marsh heirs, according to Kessler.
“Under a 1962 agreement between the NPS and the territorial government, the territory retains control and jurisdiction but the NPS maintains the following: North Shore Road from Cruz Bay to Mary Point,” according to the park’s 1983 General Management Plan, Development Concept Plan, Environmental Assessment.
In addition to diverting the North Shore Road, another of the Simons’ demands would alter Maho Bay beach.

Private Dock Proposed

“The third condition of purchase is to build a private dock in Maho Bay somewhere near where the pavilion is now located,” said Kessler. “A dock there would damage the marine ecosystem, be a danger to swimmers and be private.”
A dock in the area would be placed on submerged land which is solely owned by the NPS and is not included in the parcel in question, according to the Friends president.
The Simons’ final demand is to drain the wetland in the area and open it to Maho Bay.
Wetlands Would Be Drained
“The wetland is now a closed catchment that filters debris and sediment out of the runoff before it enters the bay,” said Kessler.
Changing the wetland would severely alter one of the last pristine watersheds on St. John, he added.
The Simons plan to construct several structures on the approximately 200 acres of developable land that would not be included in the conservation easement, according to Kessler.
The Simons also plan to allow each of the seven Marsh heirs to retain three to five acres of land, the Friends’ president added.

No Comment from NPS/TPL

The Trust for Public Land recently purchased two parcels on North Shore Road at Maho Bay.
The NPS and the TPL have remained mute on the future of Estate Maho Bay.
“Negotiations at this point are confidential,” said John Garrison, regional director for the TPL, adding that normally the non-profit company dedicated to land conservation doesn’t “sell land for development.”
VINP Superintendent Art Frederick would not comment about Estate Maho Bay following repeated called from the St. John Tradewinds.
James Simons is president of the Renaissance Technologies Corp., a private investment firm which currently has about $5 billion under management, according to the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute’s Web site.