St. John makes the Newspaper in Englewood, FL
Sunday morning newspaper was a bit more interesting on Knight Island, Florida this weekend. St. John development made the news.
St. John condo buyers suing local developers
Buyers say the condo's rules have changed, cutting the value of their properties
By DEVONA WALKER
Two prominent local developers have been hit with a "bait-and-switch" lawsuit from 41 condominium buyers at their project in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It is the second lawsuit against David Band and Kelly Frye of Sarasota, as the two partners in Bay Isles Associates LLLP try to build a luxury condo development in a tropical hamlet of St. John.
Condo buyers say they were given new rules after signing purchase agreements that "significantly" devalued their property.
Band said he and his partners are meeting with the plaintiffs' attorney next week and are prepared to revise the condominium documents.
They are optimistic that the lawsuit will be dropped soon.
The lawsuit claims that new condo documents took away beach access and parking spaces, and imposed mandatory occupancy restrictions and a charge of $39,000 per year for services such as telephone, garbage collection and access to a wine storage area. Those services already had been promised for free, states the suit, which was filed June 6 in Virgin Islands Superior Court.
The new condo documents also would deny condominium owners access to numerous amenities, including the pool, the suit said. Under the revised documents, the pool would be built on a separate parcel.
The lawsuit claims that buyers were given 15 days to either demand their money back or acquiesce.
"This is just another example of what seems to be the course of conduct for Bay Isles," the lawsuit states. "Bay Isles promised one thing to the plaintiffs to induce them to sign the purchase agreement and now Bay Isles is attempting to change the deal, and in the case of the hospitality agreement even charge the plaintiffs multiple times for the same things."
Band denied that there were major alterations to the condominium documents.
"There wasn't any significant changes. It was their interpretation of what happened," Band said. "We're meeting with them to discuss the proposal, and that's the end of it, we hope."
One change in particular involved certain amenities and beach access the buyers "perceived" were being denied to them.
The modification was necessary because Band was ultimately denied rezoning on a second parcel. The idea was to combine the two parcels.
Another issue in the lawsuit involved the property owners' ability to occupy their units for more than 90 days. Band said he was simply trying to establish a system for renting out the units, and never intended to deny them access. That part of the "modified" condominium documents will be revised, Band said.
"It's been a very difficult project, and it's taken a lot of time," Band said. "But we've come a long way with it.
"I'm not trying to make things difficult."
Two of the four buildings making up the Grande Bay Resort have been completed; two others are expected to be finished in about four months.
The other lawsuit involving the Grande Bay was filed by neighboring property owners concerned about the magnitude of the project.
The suit claims the island's codes place a three-story limit on buildings, while Grande Bay has five stories.
But the real crux of plaintiff Elizabeth Trey's issue with the development involves the very thing the developers marketed to tranquility-starved potential buyers: the view.
Trey owns a small cottage built on a steep hill that once offered a sweeping panorama of St. John.
"We used to have an unobstructed view of Cruz Bay, the outer islands and cays, and to the west, St. Thomas," Trey previously told the Herald-Tribune about the 850-square-foot cottage that has been in her family for a half-century. "Now I see a 35-foot, 3,500-square-foot concrete wall with a bunch of windows -- just 25 feet from my balcony. I've got to walk to the edge of the balcony to see the sky."
The outcry over the project in St. John -- population 5,000 -- has sparked the formation of what some are calling the community's first anti-development community organizing group, the St. John's Coalition.