Lime Out, the popular floating taco bar located in the water off St. John’s east end, has been directed to cease all operations by the territory’s Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
DPNR sent a letter to the owners of Lime Out LLC on Dec. 6, 2019 informing them of the department’s decision to deny their application for a mooring permit.
The letter, signed by DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol, cited several reasons, including: incompatibility with the surrounding area which is zoned for residential low-density purposes; concerns regarding the protection of the wreck of the Santa Monica, a nearby historical shipwreck; and impact on the bay’s natural resources from increased boating activity.
The owners of Lime Out – Chelsea and Richard Baranowski, Val and Dane Tarr and Dylan Buchalter – have appealed the decision to the Board of Land Use Appeals. After a period of rough weather, they have recently continued operating their business.
Marlon Hibbert, director of Coastal Zone Management for the territory, said on Thursday, “We met with the owners of Lime Out last week and told them to cease and desist operations. There is evidence they are still operating. The next step is to issue a Notice of Violation that has to be prepared by our legal counsel. There are fines and penalties that come with this.”
Lime Out has generated controversy since it opened in March 2019. Although it has earned rave reviews on countless tourist websites, nearby homeowners have complained that a commercial enterprise has been allowed to operate in an area zoned for residential purposes.
More than 70 individuals joined Friends of Round Bay, a citizen’s action group formed to protest Lime Out’s presence in the neighborhood.
At times, neighbors have counted as many as 17 vessels rafted up or anchored near Lime Out. On several occasions, seaplanes have landed in nearby waters to bring customers to the floating bar.
Lime Out’s owners say they have done everything they can to mitigate the environmental impact of their business. All of the food they serve is prepared at the Lime Inn, a Cruz Bay restaurant owned by Richard and Chelsea Baranowski.
All waste products are contained and returned to Cruz Bay at the end of the day. No plastic products are used; customers are served drinks in reusable cups that must be purchased or returned.
Lime Out managers tell charter boat captains to turn down their music when approaching the anchorage. Lime Out staff members are trained in first aid and CPR. For safety reasons, patrons are not allowed to swim to the Lime Out but must arrive by boat, paddle board or kayak.
The owners of Lime Out had applied to DPNR for a permit to install a permanent mooring to avoid potential damage to the seafloor by repeated anchoring. They’ve also asked DPNR to install moorings for vessels seeking to make Lime Out one of their stops as they circumnavigate St. John.
However, their efforts have not satisfied officials at DPNR. In the Dec. 6 letter, Oriol said, “Whilst the Lime Out itself has proposed its commitment to orderly and balanced usage, the attraction of the patrons to the business has been counter to this.”
Round Bay has never been designated as a mooring site; in fact, it was named in the 1990s as an Area of Particular Concern, worthy of further regulation to afford it additional protection.
Only Cruz Bay, Great Cruz Bay, Chocolate Hole and Coral Bay are designated mooring sites on St. John. These bays are already congested, and it’s questionable whether a floating business such as Lime Out could safely relocate to one of these bays.
Most of the waters surrounding St. John fall within the boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park or the Coral Reef National Monument where commercial use is restricted.
Richard Baranowski contends that Round Bay is one of the few remaining locations around St. John for Lime Out, especially since it is sheltered from swells from the north and winds from the southeast.
Lime Out’s location brings up a larger issue regarding the lack of clear regulations for floating businesses including Pizza Pi in Christmas Cove off St. Thomas, and Cowgirl Bebop, a floating restaurant proposed for a location near Mingo Cay in Pillsbury Sound.
Testifying at a Senate Committee on Rules and Judiciary last week, David Silverman, a member of the St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee said, “Although floating restaurants have been with us for some time … in the past year the appeal of this type of establishment to entrepreneurs has clearly been on the increase. …. Although we have regulations dealing with motorized vessels, there is nothing that deals explicitly with a restaurant barge moored at a single location every day for months at a time.
“Imagine for a moment the process you would need to go through if you wished to build and operate a restaurant near the shoreline on any of our islands. First you would need to find a suitably zoned parcel with adequate room for parking and the construction of the restaurant. You would need to file for and obtain a CZM Major Land Permit for the construction and operation of the business. You would need approvals from the building department, Health Department and other agencies involved in the regulation of this type of business. Only then could you open your doors for customers.
“However if you built this exact same structure on the shoreline, placed it on pontoon floats, and towed it 500 feet offshore, you could drop an anchor and open for business with no [major] CZM permit, no building permit, no zoning, virtually no regulation. This is illogical and a major loophole in our existing regulatory framework.”
Silverman proposed changes in legislation to include language to regulate floating retail structures and bring them under CZM purview. His suggestions include a definition “which differentiates these structures from traditional vessels, or charter boats or other mobile on-water business operations; guidelines for the creation of regulations to control location, density, hours of operation and other measures to ensure that floating retail establishments do not adversely impact our coastal zone and its traditional uses.”
Chelsea Baranowski, one of Lime Out’s owners, agreed that measures brought up by Silverman are worth discussing. But she repeated that Lime Out’s owners have done everything they can to mitigate their impact. She asked homeowners who have protested Lime Out’s location to ask themselves, “What is our impact compared to the development of your house?”