Estate Judith’s Fancy can legally bar nonresidents from crossing through the private neighborhood to get to the beach, the V.I. Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday, clarifying the application of beach access law in the wake of a Sept. 30 dispute.
But the neighborhood plans to continue to allow all residents to cross through to get to the beach, so long as they show a government issued photo ID, according to the Judith’s Fancy Homeowners Association attorney Jay Isherwood.
On Sept. 30, a St. Croix resident objected when asked to leave his identification at the guard booth when entering Judith’s Fancy to go to the beach. The man cited the local beach access law, which says all U.S. Virgin Islands coastline is public land and forbids placing obstructions on public roads to prevent access.
The man contacted St. Croix Board of Elections Member Adelbert Bryan and, shortly afterwards, a group of angry residents were demanding access and refusing to show identification, citing the beach access law. The V.I. Police Department determined that only the police may physically take and hold someone’s V.I. driver’s license and told the neighborhood’s representatives it could not continue to do so.
Since then, the neighborhood has allowed unrestricted access, q period during which there have been several burglaries, Isherwood said Thursday evening.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer assigned several people on his staff to research the factual and legal situation, to help resolve the legal question of whether the neighborhood may restrict through-traffic, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
After looking at deeds, maps, historical documents and the law, the Justice Department determined the road traveling through the neighborhood had always been "an estate road, serving the parcels inside the estate," and not a public road.
While V.I. law provides a right to use beaches and shorelines, "there is no right to perpendicular or similar access across private property to reach the shoreline and beaches," Justice officials wrote in the department’s statement.
While "the public has the right to use and enjoy the shorelines abutting Estate Judith’s Fancy, the owners’ association has the right to limit the access through their private property. If the owners’ association decides to grant limited access, they have a right to use legal and reasonable security measures to protect the private property," the statement continues.
Frazer urged both sides to try to see each other’s position.
"We must continue to live in peace and cooperation with our neighbors, and that requires respect and restraint," Frazer said in the statement. "On the other hand, we also ask the private property owners who have the privilege to live along our coastlines to be considerate of the traditional practices and historical access that have been enjoyed by the inhabitants of this territory for many years.”
“Reasonable steps can and should be taken to accommodate the interest and concerns of private property owners and members of the public," the statement concluded.
Isherwood said Thursday that the decision would mean the neighborhood would likely start checking identification again but that it would not hold onto the IDs.
"We just wanted to have in place requirements we believe to be appropriate to balance the residents’ interest in security with the public’s interest,” Isherwood said.
“Just as at Magens Bay, they have guards and charge a fee, because they can, because they own the land," he said.
He said there is no plan for a fee; the neighborhood would be asking cars to park in the parking lot outside Judith’s Fancy and walk, because there is no place to park inside.
Security has been a real problem, Isherwood said. "While this matter was being resolved, we agreed to reduce security levels from what we had, and we had some burglaries so our problems returned," he said. "We just have to figure out the right balance," he concluded.