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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, July 17, 2024


The League of Women Voters took its objections to the Ritz-Carlton expansion to two fronts this week – Territorial Court and the Board of Land Use Appeals.
At issue is a modification of the resort's Coastal Zone Management permit which the League says was made in secrecy without the required input either from the public or from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The complaints suggest that the permit modification could hamper public access and cause damage to wetlands.
CZM issued a permit to the Ritz-Carlton's owner, Marriott Hotel Services Inc., on Sept. 3, 1999, authorizing the construction of 24 rooms, 24 hotel suites, a 15,000-square-foot spa, 80 two- and three-bedroom units and 125 parking spaces near the existing hotel at Great Bay Beach, popularly known as Bluebeard's Beach.
Both the League and a nearby resident, Susan Anderson, challenged that permit but were unsuccessful. Anderson has joined the League in its current court complaint. Both say they are not opposed to the development in general, but have specific concerns about access and the environment.
Their suit is against the resort, CZM and Gov. Charles Turnbull.
In March, the Ritz asked for a modification to its major CZM permit. In its suit, the League says it asked in writing for information from CZM about the application. But on April 27, CZM Committee chair Albert Paiewonsky wrote back to the League to say the committee had already reviewed the application in a closed-door meeting April 4 and that details of the meeting "are privileged information." The committee formally approved the modification on May 16.
The modification of the permit allows the resort "to reconfigure the location of the road and parking lot so as to avoid impact on wetlands areas."
But the League is charging that it could do just the opposite, and that the modification also contains language that could result in limiting public access.
In a controversial move, the government sold the road, Route 322, to the resort last fall to make way for the project. Under the permit modification, the resort creates a public easement to Great Bay Beach but reserves the right to relocate it "should it subsequently be established that this easement will conflict with the future plans of Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. or its successors or assigns."
The League charges that the easement is "illusory" and "does not grant the public real access to the Great Bay Beach in violation of the public's right to use and enjoy shorelines and to maximize public access to same, all in violation of the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Act."
In its appeal to the Board of Land Use Appeals, the League also questions whether the proposed parking lot will encroach on wetlands. As required, the Army Corps of Engineers reviewed the original application and determined that an edge of the area was in wetlands. In its revised plan, the Ritz shows the area completely out of wetlands, and CZM accepted that determination without consulting the Army Corps of Engineers.
The League is asking the court not only to halt work at the site but to enjoin the CZM committee "from holding closed meetings on coastal zone permit applications and from withholding records. . ."
St. Thomas attorney Gwendolyn R. Wilds filed the suit late Thursday on behalf of the League and of Anderson. The League sent its complaint to the Board of Land Use Appeals June 27.

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