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In 1955 Mr. Erik LAWAETZ of St Croix, U.S Virgin Islands, purchased approximately eleven hundred acres of land located on both the French and Dutch sides of St Martin The area called "The Lowlands". The area extended from Mullet Bay Beach Hotel on the Dutch side to the western boundary of La Belle Creole on the French side. It is almost an island, the greater part of it being French, bordered by the Caribbean, the Atlantic and Simpson Bay Lagoon.
Mr. LAWAETZ was able to acquire title despite the very complicated laws governing inheritance and ownership of property. The entire French section was deeded over from the family of Madame Henri VIALENC and deeds to the Dutch part came from two owners, the BEAUPERTHUY family and a member of the PETERSEN family. LAWAETZ also discovered that, in accordance with a law governing French possessions throughout the world, a "zone des 50 pas geometrique" traditionally known as "the 50 steps of the King" or "Domaine land", a distance of 81 meters from mean high TIDE on all property bordering the water, was reserved by the Government for defense and/or maritime purposes. Mr. LAWAETZ went to Paris accompanied by Elie FLEMING, then Mayor of St Martin. They were successful in persuading the French authorities to deed the "Domaine land" to Mr. LAWAETZ in 1959 - a ruling without precedence.
Sales of building lots and larger areas for subdivisions were begun my Mr. LAWAETZ immediately. A few of these properties are still in the hands of the original buyers. In 1957 he filed development plans with the Dutch and French governments. The Dutch never approved the plan with the result that, in the course of time, multiple housing units have been constructed on the Dutch side properties. On the French side a Landowners Association was formed in 1961 and registered in Delaware. In October 1963, the French present the 'Cahier des Charges' which are covenants and deed restrictions for the area known as the Terres Basses (or the French Lowlands).
Some of the most important rules and regulations for the Terres Basses are:
- The owners of all lots shall join an association of which each purchaser shall be considered legally obligated to become a member by the solo fact of his purchase. The Association called ASSOCIAIION SYNDICALE des PROPRIETAIRES des TERBES BASSES IS authorized by the French government to enforce the Cahier des Charges.
- The zoning regulation requires one (1) hectare (2.117 acres) per dwelling. No subdivision beyond this is permitted.
- Each lot shall contain one story main house ; secondary structures for garage or servant quarters are permitted. EXPRESSELY forbidden are two main dwellings per lot, containing separate family units.
The purposes of the Association are to create and preserve the Terres Basses section of St Martin as a harmonious and attractive residential community for the benefit of all landowners., and to provide for the maintenance, repair and development of roads, beach lots and other common facilities.
It is hard to imagine the condition of the roads in the Lowlands from 1957 through 1963. Little was done to improve these roads until 1963, when the directors hired a contractor, bought road building equipment and built the base for what is now known as the International road. In 1968 the Association turned over the road to the Government, but it was not until 1975 that it was paved. The remaining French roads belong to the Association which is responsible for yearly repair and maintenance.
The BY-LAWS of the Association and the Cahier des Charges have been adhered to with very few exceptions - a fact that reflects the strong desire on the part of the overwhelming majority of the members to maintain the Terres Basses section of the Island in the manner for which it was originally conceived. It is this conception which has led to the tremendous appreciation of values and to the recognition of’ the Terres Basses section of St Martin as one of the most desirable living areas in all of’ the Caribbean.
While almost exclusively American in the beginning and through most of its formative years, the membership is becoming increasingly international.