Tempers flare at contentious meeting over beach access at Judith's Fancy
Published: October 3, 2012
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ST. CROIX - The tension in the room was thick and emotions ran high Tuesday afternoon as about 50 residents turned out for a meeting to discuss the access to the beaches that border Judith's Fancy residential area on the island's north shore.
While the situation of limited access or monitored access is one that has been going on for years in various areas, it came to a head Sunday afternoon when residents wanting access to the beaches through the community for fishing and other recreational activities were told that they had to present their driver's licenses before they could be granted access, a policy the homeowners association said was recently implemented.
Resident Daniel Simmolkjier, a farmer and fisherman, said the security officer refused to open the gate before Simmolkjier surrendered his driver's license, so Simmolkjier called for police assistance because he felt his right to access public beaches in the territory was being violated.
As Simmolkjier waited, about 30 people, including children, had gathered at the gate, awaiting access while officials of the homeowners association engaged in a brief exchange of words.
Police officers who showed up could not quell the matter, and Assistant Attorney General Joseph Ponteen was called in to provide a remedy, albeit temporary.
Residents contend that the guard gate and the road leading into the residential area is public and should not be obstructed or placed under any type of restricted access policy by the association.
The Judith's Fancy homeowner's association argues that the road is the association's property, is private and can be protected under their security measures, especially in light of a recent increase in burglaries.
On Sunday, Ponteen asked the association to open the gate and provide access, at least until some discussion could be held and the issues and concerns of both sides are aired.
On Tuesday, he said the meeting was to bring about education and enlightenment.
Police Lt. Joseph Platt resolved the first issue by advising that no one other than a police officer is authorized to request a driver's license from any motorist and that motorists should not surrender their license to anyone other than an officer or the court.
Discussions continued among the group about other issues pertaining to the access, but the underlying issue of who owned the land generated the most intense arguments. A few residents stormed out of the meeting, angered by responses from the association's position and its responses.
Adelbert Bryan, another resident who tried to get access at Judith's Fancy on Sunday, also attended Tuesday's meeting. He said that he was able to trace the ownership of the road back to the days of slavery and that it is clear that the road never could have been sold to the association and thereby has always been public.
"I just want to make it clear that nobody has to right to check no identification, and nobody going to stop me from going in there," he said.
Kendall Petersen said the controlled access is in violation of the Open Shoreline Act, which states that the public has the right to use and enjoy the shorelines of the territory. The V.I. Code defines the shoreline as the water line inward to 50 feet or the first natural boundary.
The code, however, does not address the manner in gaining access, and Norman Williams of the Coastal Zone Management Office said his agency can regulate only what the code states.
The association's legal counsel, Jay Isherwood, and Bryan both presented what they classified as certified maps of the area. Isherwood's map showed that no road existed when the property was bought, while Bryan's showed the roads running from Northside Road through the community and to the beach.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Wayne Anderson said the government has no official position on the matter and said all agencies involved will meet on Thursday to discuss a plan of action and form an official position. He said that while he did not know the position of the government, the intention of his office is to gather all the necessary parties and find a solution to the problem.
Discussions were raised on several occasions about having the court settle the dispute.
Gregory Miller said that while the issue of Judith's Fancy is on the table now, there also are issues with limited access to beaches fenced in at Sandy Point, the Buccaneer Hotel, Carambola, Enfield Green and other areas that need to be addressed.
Until the matter is resolved, Police Capt. Mary Duggan asked the association to be a good neighbor and leave the gate arm up so residents can access the beach.
"There is a very real potential for people to get hurt here. Blood is running hot, and we need to avoid a greater conflict," she said.
Isherwood said he could not agree to do that.
Bryan warned that he would give security personnel five seconds to open the gate once he announced he was going to the beach.
"If they don't move it when they see me coming I will kick it down," he said. "They could believe whatever they want, but if we can't go in Judith's Fancy, none of them goin be able to come to Frederiksted or Sion Farm or Grove or Mon Bijou."
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.