New Sapphire owner blocks beach parking


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ST. THOMAS - The owner of the Sapphire Beach Resort erected barricades Thursday to prevent the public from parking on the resort's property, raising the question of public beach access in the territory.

The new restriction is the latest action taken by the property's new owner, Dean Morehouse of Beachside Associates.

For years, the gravel parking area to the left of the main entrance has been used by locals and visitors coming to enjoy Sapphire Beach.

According to the resort's original Coastal Zone Management permit, issued in 1985, public beach access is a general condition of the permit.

One of the special conditions states: "The permittee shall provide a clearly marked 20 foot wide pedestrian access to the shoreline from the Sapphire Resort road."

CZM Director Jean-Pierre Oriol said he would look into the matter to see whether closing the parking area violates the public beach access conditions.

"We'd have to take a look specifically at the drawings and the language contained in the permit document," Oriol said. "We have to identify what was being used as the public access."

According to the permit, the easement for public access to the beach was supposed to have been recorded at the Lt. Governor's Recorder of Deeds office.

"Being a resort, I don't think we'll find anything specific to public parking," Oriol said.

He said it appears to be a similar situation to what happened many years ago at Linqvist Beach, where the private property owners blocked the public from accessing the beach from the land. In that case, the government ultimately took the property through eminent domain and it is now Smith Bay Park, operated by the Magens Bay Authority.

"What his claim will most likely be, is that he has a right to protect his property," Oriol said.

Beachside Associates bought the mortgage on the property for about $1.8 million in 2003, according to attorney Jim Derr, who represents SBRMCOA, LLC, the condominium association at Sapphire.

The property - everything but the condo units and marina - was owned by a company called Bayside Resort.

In July 2005, Bayside Resort abandoned the property, which includes tennis courts, parking areas, and the Seagrape building that housed the public bathrooms, a restaurant, main lobby and bar.

In 2011, a foreclosure action was filed in V.I. Superior Court and at a court auction held in December, Morehouse obtained ownership of the property, Derr said.

Parts of the Seagrape building were boarded up several years ago, and the rest was shuttered Monday, and access to the taxi drop-off area was blocked.

Beachside and the condo association are locked in several legal battles over the use of the property.

Neither Morehouse or his attorney, Neil Goldman, could be reached for comment by press time.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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