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CZM Says 'No' to Mandahl Development

March 26, 2009 — While only half filled with people, the Lockhart Elementary School auditorium reverberated with cheers and applause Thursday night after the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee shot down a proposal for a large-scale marina and housing development in Estate Mandahl.
The long-awaited decision hearing took about an hour, ending with a vote to deny both CZM permit applications, which laid out plans for a 91-acre coastal community replete with condos, studio apartments and town center, among other things. Voting against the project were CZM committee members Winston Adams, Richard Brown, Fern LaBorde and Peggy Simmonds.
CZM Committee chairman Austin "Babe" Monsanto abstained, saying he didn't have enough time to review all the information before the hearing.
Project developer Mark Small has 45 days to appeal the decision. The acoustics in the room made it difficult to hear the CZM staff's recommendations, and once all the information is reviewed, Mandahl Bay Holdings will decide what to do next, Small said after the hearing. The staff's report seemed to be affected by the large public outcry against the project, he added, referencing the hours of testimony and letters presented by community members at the initial CZM hearing earlier this month (See "Mandahl Bay Hearing Draws Hundreds.")
"Based on what I did hear, the decision to deny was based on information fraught with errors," Small added later.
CZM Director Janice Hodge said the staff did not find the project to be "consistent" with CZM's statute, and said the development would alter the "last remaining natural wetland" on the north side of St. Thomas.
"In light of the strong public opposition to this development, the applicant has not shown that the proposed development is a social and economic need to the residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands," she said. The CZM committee quickly voted to adopt the staff's recommendations.
Residents got to their feet and cheered once the votes were cast, summing up their emotions in a few words: elated, ecstatic, grateful.
"I thank God, I thank the CZM Committee for their wisdom, and I thank the community for their support," said Friends of Mandahl Bay organizer Anna Francis, who started a campaign against the project about three years ago. Francis said community's victory would be dedicated to the memory of longtime Mandahl resident Jack Diehl, who was recently gunned down near his home.
"He would have been so happy," she said. "He practically stood in front of the bulldozers all by himself. So this one's for him — definitely for him."

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