Thatch Cay owners appeal permit extension denial


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ST. THOMAS - The owners of Thatch Cay are appealing the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee's 2012 denial of a permit extension today.

The development's appeal will be heard by the Board of Land Use Appeals at 10 a.m. today in the Department of Planning and Natural Resources conference room on the second floor of King Airport.

In December 2012, three of the five CZM committee members voted to deny the project a third permit extension.

The current owners have been working to develop the offshore cay for about 11 years, and the most recent CZM permit was approved in 2009. One of the conditions of the permit is that if ground is not broken on the project within one year, the developer must return to the committee for an extension.

The owners, Thatch Cay LLC, asked for and received extensions in 2010 and in 2011, saying that they were unable to secure the federal permits necessary to start the project. In March 2012, the owners filed a third request for an extension, as well as an application for a modification to the permit.

At the decision meeting December 2012, father and son owners Isaac and Mateo Levy said they had to change their developer and architect, which delayed the project.

Thatch Cay, a rocky 230-acre island about a half-mile north of Coki Point, is undeveloped.

The owners planned to build 101 homes and 24 support buildings on the island. The project included a community center, clubhouses, a yoga pavilion, spa, two dining areas, two tennis courts, sewage treatment plants, a reverse osmosis plant, generators, a 21-slip dock, 25 boat moorings and a helicopter landing area. Many members of the community have opposed the project for years, citing concerns about protecting the environment.

The developers said the project would be a boon to the economy and provide jobs to Virgin Islanders. Some of the CZM committee members did not like how long the project had taken and were distrustful of the owners and skeptical of the reasons the federal government took so long to issue permits.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service would have had to sign off on the federal permits before the development could have broken ground, and the owners were seeking the extension and a modification to the permit to allow those permits to move forward.

However, when the permit extension was denied, the modification became moot.

The modification request would have removed one of the docks, allowed for 270 corals to be relocated and modified the construction-barge landing to reduce impact on the corals in the area.

At the December 2012 decision meeting, CZM Committee members Winston Adams, Austin Monsanto and Sarah Simmonds voted against the extension, and Richard Brown and Karl Percell voted in favor.

Following the extension denial, the owners of Thatch Cay filed an appeal to the Board of Land Use Appeals, stating that the CZM Committee's decision was capricious and arbitrary.

Today's hearing will be unusual, because the CZM staff will not be defending the committee's decision.

In 2012, the staff supported the permit extension and recommended its approval by the committee.

CZM Director Jean-Pierre Oriol said the committee and staff typically are in agreement, and when committee decisions are appealed, the staff goes before the appeals board to support the committee's decision.

Not this time.

"Usually there's no conflict associated with that," Oriol said. "However, in this case the committee did not uphold the staff's recommendation, which was to continue the project for one year, and instead voted not to extend the permit request."

The record reflects the staff position, so it would not make sense to go against that position, he said.

Oriol said Monsanto, as the chairman of the St. Thomas CZM Committee, will represent the board at today's hearing.

"You don't need to be an attorney to represent a board or commission or anything like that at the Board of Land Use Appeals," Oriol said.

The Board of Land Use Appeals also will hear from Sugar Estate Associates, which is asking for a waiver of the parking space requirement for a senior living center on St. Thomas.

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

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