East Bay Holding Company owners Mark Davies and Clark Bottner discussed their plans for the group dwelling permit to construct the 28-unit East Bay Beach Club at a public meeting at Guy H. Benjamin School in Coral Bay on Tuesday, March 11.
St. John resident Brummell Germain, center, speaks out against the East Bay Beach Development at the publiic hearing on Tuesday evening, March 11, in Coral Bay.
Calling the project “Sirenusa East” and questioning everything from environmental impacts to electrical capacity, residents overwhelmingly urged Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning Director Stuart Smith to not approve a Group Dwelling Permit for East Bay Holding L.L.C. at a public hearing on Tuesday evening, March 11.
About 65 residents — a dozen of whom wore T-shirts emblazoned with the message “Do Not Approve” — filled classroom six at Guy Benjamin School for last week’s meeting and posed numerous concerns about the proposed project.
East Bay Holding Company owner Mark Davies, joined by partner Clark Bottner, requested a Group Dwelling Permit in order to construct the 28-unit East Bay Beach Club on eight acres of land on the East End of St. John. Plans include construction of 16 three-bedroom and 12 four-bedroom units, with several one story units along the beach and the remaining two story units on the hillside, a clubhouse and a pool.
The property is zoned R-1 (residential-1) and allows for the construction of two units per each half-acre. Davies requested the Group Dwelling Permit in order to cluster the 28 units on one portion of his eight-acre parcel of land.
Davies owns a total of about 75 acres on the East End which are divided into 35 different lots of various sizes. In order to access the land, the New Jersey-based developer paid $1 million to the Privateer Bay Home Owners Association and signed an easement agreement that prohibited the construction of commercial and large-scale development.
The 60-member Privateer Bay Home Owners Association was represented at last week’s meeting by Attorney Ron Pennington of Dudley, Topper and Feuerzeig, LLP, as well as by numerous residents who spoke on their own behalf as well.
“The easement did not contemplate a cluster of homes,” said Pennington. “This will mimic a hotel and condo area which touches on the commercial prohibitions in the easement agreement.”
East End home owner and green architect Doug White was more blunt in his remarks.
“This is a text-book example of greed-driven development led by a proven failed developer,” said White. “This will become Sirenusa East.”
White expounded on eight reasons why DPNR should deny Davies’ Group Dwelling Permit, citing concerns over the ability of the infrastructure on the island, and especially on the East End to handle this type of project; storm water runoff; lack of retaining walls; and the layout of the development which could easily be configured as a hotel-type of project.
“This development could easily be configured into between 52 and 96 lock-out bedroom units,” said White. “This is an insult to the history and culture of the East End.”
Several residents questioned if Centerline Road, already crumbling in several areas, could take the load of so many concrete trucks.
“You’re going to be bringing all that building material and concrete out there,” said Gail George. “The trucks are killing our roads.”
“Can Centerline Road bear the added weight and traffic from a project of this size,” asked Erin Moon.
Just off-shore of the proposed development site, located past Privateer Point at Parcel No. Remainder 6A-1 Estate Hansen Bay at East End Bay, are several healthy staghorn and elkhorn corals, explained Philip Stringer.
“I didn’t hear any mention of water off-shore,” said Stringer. “There are two forms of endangered corals, staghorn and elkhorn, there. The thicket of staghorn coral is the healthiest and largest I’ve seen anywhere in the Caribbean.”
“It’s a treasure,” said Stringer.
The project’s storm-water runoff plans are inadequate, explained Steven Hull.
“A double silt fence at the limit of the disturbed area seems ludicrous,” said Hull. “You can’t keep the silt in. This seems like a disaster on a number of front.”
Residents who live on the East End know full well that it takes a full hour for emergency responders to arrive from Cruz Bay, explained retired EMT Carol Beckowitz.
“It takes about an hour for the ambulance to get from Cruz Bay to East End and residents who live out there know this,” said Beckowitz. “With this type of development you’re not talking about residents, you’re talking about tourists. You are putting their lives at risk.”
“It is irresponsible to subject tourists to that,” Beckowitz said.
The East End’s fragile roads, limited services and sensitive electrical grid will not be able to withstand a project of this scope, explained Jay Swarthly.
“There is not enough power and we only have two dumpsters for the whole of East End,” said Swarthly. “What will you do with your garbage? What about fuel and diesel for the generators?”
Swarthly, an East End resident, also offered a few words of advice for Davies.
“Look before you leap,” said Swarthly. “Probably the most expensive place to build in all of the Virgin Islands is the East End. It’s almost guaranteed that you’re going to run out of money.”
The cost to the island will be another piece of nature gone, explained Delroy “Ital” Anthony.
“We are losing our nature and our plants,” said Anthony. “You start bringing in the bulldozers and you’re going to change it.”
The area proposed for development resembles a fairy-tale setting, according to local plant ecologist Gary Ray.
“This area looks like something out of Grimm Fairy-tales; it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing,” said Ray.
For East End resident Eric Zucker, the development is about the future of the quiet island neighborhood.
“This is really about the future; the future of East End, the future of St. John,” said Zucker. “This is just inappropriate. This is a vision I cannot support.”
“We are talking about the future of our little world out here and this is utterly inappropriate,” Zucker said.
After hearing from residents, Davies had a chance to answer some of the questions which were posed.
The natural layout of the proposed development site lends itself to storm water retention, Davies explained.
“The way our site is set up, you would have to try to get water into the bay,” said the developer. “It’s a natural berm with a natural retention area.”
Despite the fears of many in the room, Davies said the development will not be sold as timeshares.
“I hate timeshares,” said Davies. “This will not be timeshares. These will be bought units.”
The developer plans to build the clubhouse, pool and the first three units before moving ahead any further with the project, he explained.
“The market will dictate it from there,” said Davies. “We’re not going to do a Sirenusa or a Grande Bay.”
Following suggestions from CCZP, the developer has already relocated several units, explained Smith.
The revised plans are available to view at DPNR’s Cruz Bay office, located across from the Elaine I. Spruave Library. Stewart will accept comments from the public on the project for the next three to four weeks. The CCZP Director will then send a recommendation to either approve or deny the Group Dwelling Permit to DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes who will either approve or deny the request.
Even if the Group Dwelling Permit is approved, the development will still need a Coastal Zone Management permit before moving forward, during which time there will be additional public hearings.
Residents can comment on the East Bay Beach Club development by emailing Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view the new site plans, residents are urged to call DPNR’s Cruz Bay office at (340) 693-8735 to set up an appointment.