V.I. shuts down business on Mafolie overlook
Published: July 25, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The government has shut down a business operating out of a shipping container perched high above Charlotte Amalie on the edge of a natural gut in Estate Mafolie, saying it is not properly zoned to operate.
The property and business owner, Lionel Warrell, said the problem is bigger than the license revocation. He says the government has been trying to stop him from obtaining the zoning change required so that he can develop the property into "Warrells Water Way" a tourist attraction with a gift shop and overlook.
A hearing on several matters related to Warrell's property is scheduled before V.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Dunston on Aug. 8, according to Warrell.
Warrell said he received a tavernkeeper's license from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs in January.
Tuesday, DLCA said it revoked the license it gave to Warrell because the business was conducting commerce in an area not properly zoned for that purpose.
"As a result, Lionel Warrell's business was being operated illegally, resulting in DLCA initiating revocation proceedings and conducting a hearing on the matter," DLCA Commissioner Wayne Biggs Jr. said in a written statement.
Biggs said the department had received a "large volume" of complaints from residents concerned about traffic and safety issues. As a result of the complaints, a joint investigation was conducted by DLCA and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, he said.
Warrell said he filed an injunction in Superior Court to stop the revocation hearing at DLCA, but the department went ahead with the administrative hearing before the court ruled in the matter.
The 44-foot shipping container is located on the side of the road, near the Mafolie Hotel. It has a roll up window that Warrell said he was serving drinks out of. There is no parking, and only a few metal benches scattered next to the container and on the far side of the gut.
Warrell said the container is only temporary, and he was only operating out of it until he could get the zoning change. The property is currently zoned R-2 (Residential-Low Density) and does not allow "Tavernkeeper "B" or "Retail Shop and Store" as permitted uses, according to Biggs.
Warrell said he applied for a zoning change in 2009, less than a year after purchasing the property. He said he received a letter three days ago from the V.I. Justice Department that said DPNR had denied his application back in 2009.
Warrell said he will be filing for a writ of mandamus in Superior Court because he believes the government arbitrarily denied his zoning change request.
The fight between Warrell and the government has been ongoing for years.
In the last two years, several stop work orders and notice of violations have been issued to Warrell. In February 2011, he appealed the DPNR actions to the Board of Land Use Appeals on the basis that the container was neither a building nor a trailer and the law did not apply.
In May 2011, DPNR enforcement officers arrested him for disobeying a lawful order when they came onto his property to remove the container.
V.I. Superior Court Judge Alan Smith dismissed the charges, finding no probable cause for the arrest.
The Board of Land Use Appeals ruled in Warrell's favor in December 2011.
After the appeal was won and he received his business license, Warrell began to sell drinks out of the container.
"The way that the trailer was placed, regardless of his intentions, was unsafe," DPNR Director of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning Division Stuart Smith said.
He said the container is on fill dirt that is not compacted, which is why DPNR issued the violations in the first place.
However, in winning the appeal to keep the container on his property as a temporary structure and opening his business, Warrell may have lost the next round.
"When he opened it as a snack bar, it no longer became a temporary structure," Smith said.
Warrell said he is tired of fighting with the government, and just wants a chance to develop his property.
"I really don't have a problem with them revoking my license right now. I mean, it is a problem, but in moving forward, I want to know where do we go from here?" Warrell said. "All I want to do is move forward."
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.