AG: Road leading into Judith's Fancy area is private
Published: November 1, 2012
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ST. CROIX - V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer said Wednesday that he has made the determination that the land, roadway and access to the Estate Judith's Fancy residential area is not public and should be respected as private property.
Frazer's decision sets a precedent for future disputes regarding public access through private property.
Frazer said Wednesday that his office was notified on Sept. 30 of a confrontation between hired security guards of the Judith's Fancy Owners Association and members of the public who are not residents of Estate Judith's Fancy. The non-residents demanded access to the estate roads within Judith's Fancy to access the beaches in Judith's Fancy on the north shore of St. Croix.
Days after the confrontation, Frazer assigned persons on his staff to meet with the disputing parties to ascertain the facts.
Relevant government agencies were invited to participate in the meetings, including the V.I. Police Department, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Cadastral Office in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, the V.I. Public Works Department, the Office of the Governor and the National Park Service.
Frazer said his staff reviewed and considered maps and historical documents to determine whether a dedicated public access way existed through Estate Judith's Fancy. The staff reviewed ancient deeds as well as current deeds, Frazer said.
Based on all of the documents and deeds, no evidence indicates there ever was a dedicated public road traversing through Estate Judith's Fancy, according to Frazer. The road through the estate appears to have always been an estate road, serving the parcels inside the estate, he said.
"Pursuant to the United States Constitution and the Revised Organic Act of 1954, private property owners have a right to restrict public access to their private property," Frazer said in a statement issued Wednesday. "There is no law in the Virgin Islands that obligates a private property owner or group of owners, to give access to their private property to the public. Private Property owners have the right to restrict or deny access to their private property."
Additionally, the Open Shoreline law provides that the shorelines and beaches of the Virgin Islands are considered open and accessible to the public, Frazer said.
That law gives the public "the right to use and enjoy the shorelines of the United States Virgin Islands," according to the statement.
However, while the public has a right to the beaches and shorelines, there is no right to perpendicular or similar access across private property to reach the shoreline and beaches, according to Frazer.
The Open Shoreline law does not give the public the right to access private property, as in the Judith's Fancy community and other properties abutting shorelines of the Virgin Islands, according to the attorney general's statement. The law gives the public access to the shoreline upland to the closer of the line of permanent vegetation or 50 feet, but the access to the shoreline across private property from land side is not guaranteed to the public, Frazer determined.
Adelbert Bryan, who was one of the residents denied access to the area in September said Wednesday that the attorney general's findings are not well-researched and go against everything documented in history.
"This is just another idiotic, unresearched, stupid opinion, and if he knows about Danish law and the King's Road, he will know that it is no way possible for him to say that," Bryan said.
The Judith's Fancy area include's great houses and windmills and other homes that were there in ancient times, and there is no way that they could be accessed if there was no public access roads, according to Bryan.
He said that National Park has land in the area that is now land-locked because of their newly enforced rules, and the attorney general should know better.
"Nobody has the right to deed over the access to roads, especially when their are utilities there," Bryan said. "If that is the case, we will put up a gate to Grove Place and Frederiksted and put a sign to say who could come in and who can't."
Frazer said private property owners who have property abutting shorelines and beaches, such as the Judith's Fancy Owners Association, have a constitutional right to deny or restrict public access to their property.
The Judith's Fancy Owner Association has given access to its property to persons going to the shoreline abutting their estate, and the owners association has said it is willing to continue to allow that access. However, in light of burglaries which have occurred in their community, the owners have felt the need to monitor and control the public's access through the property by using reasonable security measures, according to Frazer. The owners association has met with the Police Department to discuss reasonable security steps that can be taken to protect the property owners in Estate Judith's Fancy, Frazer said.
"It is the position of the Office of the Attorney General that while the public has the right to use and enjoy the shorelines abutting Estate Judith's Fancy, the Owners' Association has the right to limit the access through their private property," Frazer said n the prepared statement. "If the owners' association decides to grant limited access, they have a right to use legal and reasonable security measures to protect the private property."
Frazer said the residents of St. Croix and of the entire Virgin Islands should be respectful of the private property rights of property owners.
"We must continue to live in peace and cooperation with our neighbors, and that requires respect and restraint," Frazer said. "On the other hand, we also ask the private property owners who have the privilege to live along our coastlines to be considerate of the traditional practices and historical access that have been enjoyed by the inhabitants of this territory for many years.
"Reasonable steps can and should be taken to accommodate the interest and concerns of private property owners and members of the public," he said.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.