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Developers Continue Fight Over Beach Access

June 20, 2005 – Lindqvist Beach is on St. Thomas, but a Board of Land Use public hearing about beach access to Lindqvist was held Monday on St. Croix, making access to the hearing for concerned residents difficult.
Ironically, the beach access being offered by developers may also be too difficult for most residents, according to Jennifer Jones, legal counsel for Coastal Zone Management.
The developers, V.I. Investments, have agreed to allow public access to the beach and have drawn it on their map, but the trail would be a quarter-mile long and not be legally dedicated to public use.
Arguing for the developers, attorney Alan Smith said the government could not demand that his clients dedicate an easement. He said his clients were "gratuitously" allowing the access and could maintain it or not maintain it as they saw fit.
And the 10-foot-wide path seemed to agree with board member Fred Vialet who said, "It is imbedded in my mind. I see a nice area for cars to park and a nice path to the beach."
Jones maintained that access to the beach had to be a dedicated easement, "So every time somebody wants to use the beach they don't have to sue the owners."
Smith argued mostly on constitutional grounds. He said that constitutional rights of private property owners were "something we all hold dear." He said, "We just want a ruling that is consistent with the rights of private property owners."
His clients were actually asking for two rulings, the CZM set two conditions on the developers of the subdivision, the first would be the dedication of the public access way and the second, the keeping open of a gate in the fence during daylight hours.
The board did not rule on either appeal, but did close the public deliberation. A meeting will be scheduled for a vote as soon as possible, according to Michael Law, assistant attorney general.
Jones was not buying into Smith's constitutional argument. She said the right to public access had been part of the Coastal Zoning Management Act since 1972, and no one had challenged it. She said the CZM was completely in its rights to demand the access be dedicated and that would meet "the goals and policies of the CZM."
She said this was not a "taking of property." She said the government is completely within its right to make a requirement of private property owners when their actions "impact the public."
She reminded board members Monday morning that CZM had denied the Boy Scouts of America a variance to build shelters on their property because the shelters did not confirm to zoning.
Smith also conducted his argument on a second front. He said, "We would not be here today, if not for the ultimate objective of the government to take this land."
It is no secret that the government has an interest in the property. (See "Wellfields Settlement Funds Eyed to Acquire Lindqvist".)
Smith said that the government's desire to purchase the property has caused "an inordinate delay in the reviewing process."
After the hearing Smith said, "I think we have it on record, and the board understands the issues."
Hearings on this most recent proposed project go back to last November with the Land Use Board, but it is just the most recent development in a string of controversies surrounding Lindqvist.
The present owners were fined for putting up the fence that is still in question.
(See "Fine Chopped by 99 Percent, But Reason for It Upheld").
The developers want a major CZM permit for a proposed subdivision of 24 homes for the 21-acre property.
The V.I. government has proceeded with efforts to acquire the Lindqvist land through condemnation and seizure by eminent domain. The government's appraisals have set the land's value at $4.3 million. The government had earmarked $2.5 million from the December bond issue to acquire the property.
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