Another IGBA Meeting Draws Crowd Against Large-scale Island Development

Attorney and resident Alan Smith

The Island Green Building Association (IGBA) meetings continue to draw crowds of residents opposed to large developments that have been popping up across Love City.

More than 50 people attended the IGBA meeting on Tuesday, April 25, at the Legislature building in Cruz Bay to discuss issues ranging from initiating a three-story height limit for all buildings on the island to including the entire island in the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program’s Tier 1.

“Our short-term objectives are the Tier 1 issue and the three-story issue,” said Alan Smith, a former Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) commissioner. “These are two ways to begin to get an immediate handle on pace and scope of development on St. John.”

“I feel that this is a good forum to begin empowering residents on St. John to get a better degree of control of development,” Smith added.

Old-time St. John Gone
After reminiscing about “old-time” St. John including the Tortola sloop that would bring fresh vegetables one day a week to the fresh orange juice stand by the dock, Smith told the group those days were over.

“That is not the St. John that we live in today,” he said. “The likelihood of those days coming back is slim to none. The development on St. John is driven less by a desire to become a part of the place, and more as wanting to make big bucks.”

What is occurring on St. John is not unique, Smith added.

“It’s the reality here and in many other places around the globe,” he said. “We’re not the first community to struggle with this issue. We must bridge our differences and start this grassroots effort.”

Greg Miller, a civil engineer, discussed the differences bet-ween CZM’s Tier 1 and Tier 2.

“When CZM decided the line between Tier 1 and Tier 2, they did not follow the natural environment of St. John,” he said. “St. John has very little area not susceptible to erosion.”

Minor Permits
“For minor permits—usually for residential and two-family houses—in Tier 1 and Tier 2, the only difference is that in Tier 1, you have to tell your neighbors what you are doing and you have to pay your taxes,” said Miller.

For minor permits in Tier 1, a developer must provide DPNR with income tax and property tax clearance letters, and notify abutting neighbors of the development in addition to the earth change and building permit processes, Miller explained.

Minor permit applicants in Tier 2, must submit to the same earth change and building permitting process, but they aren’t required to show tax clearance letters or notify neighbors, Miller added.

Major Permits
“That is the only difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2 for minor permits,” he said. “For major permits, the application for Tier 1 is five times as thick as for Tier 2. Major permits in Tier 1 must have public hearings.”

“But major permits in Tier 2 only need the earth change and building permits,” Miller continued. “It’s the same permit for them as a home builder. That is a flaw in the system which happened a long time ago.”

IGBA members are not suggesting minor permit applicants be mandated to hold public hearings, Miller added.

Enforcement of existing laws is another problem on St. John, Miller explained.

Difficulties with Enforcement
“Even though laws are on the books, it can be difficult to enforce them,” he said. “The International Building Code is very complex, and I doubt if the inspector even knows it. This is not unique in the V.I.—this is the way the world is.”

The fines in place vary greatly between Tier 1 and Tier 2 violations, Miller added.

“Fines in Tier 1 are unlimited,” he said. “Developers can be fined anything. But in Tier 2, the maximum fine—no matter how bad the violation—is $500.”

“That is another flaw in the system, but it is on the books,” Miller said.

Senator at Large Craig Barshinger pledged his support to the group and outlined three laws that he is proposing in the V.I. Senate.

Legislation To Curb Development
“I can assist you in the laws, but we have no enforcement ability,” he said. “I am drafting legislation to mandate a three-story height restriction on St. John. I need a statement from you of what a story is.”

Barshinger is also proposing legislation to include all of St. John in Tier 1 and to enact reasonable impact fees for developers. “Builders come here and think it’s funny that there aren’t any impact fees,” he said. “We have to make them pay to play here.”

The issues that Love City residents have been facing are not St. John exclusive, according to Carla Joseph, president of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas and St. John (EAST).

“You’re not alone,” she said. “Don’t look at these issues as St. John only. These are V.I. issues.”

Residents Oppose Parking Garage
The controversial proposed parking garage and vendors plaza, slated to be constructed across from the Cruz Bay Creek, is not adequate to alleviate the dire parking problems on St. John, according to architect Rob Crane.

“Rather than spend $3 million on a vendor plaza and parking garage, let’s build a real parking garage,” he said. “We can still have the vendors plaza. But the 80 spaces from the parking garage would make a dent in our problem.”

Now that the Enighed Pond Marine Facility has opened, the waterfront area near the Creek is prime real estate, Crane explained.

“Do we really want to put a parking garage in the prime waterfront downtown area?” he questioned. “We could landscape the area by Nature’s and build a vendor’s plaza for far less than $3 million.”

“But if they build a three-story concrete structure, we’re stuck with it,” he added.

Governor Turns Deaf Ear
More than 1,000 residents signed a petition opposed to the proposed parking garage, which Crane forwarded to Gov. Charles Turnbull and all members of the V.I. Senate.

“The governor has turned a deaf ear and I don’t know where we go from here,” Crane said.

Philip “Grasshopper” Pickering thought V.I. government officials might have ulterior motives.

“Where they want to put this parking garage is a high-traffic area,” he said. “They have professionals studying this. If I know that it won’t work there, they know this too.”

“I would not be surprised if they build a beautiful building and then turn it into real estate,” Pickering continued. “Prime real estate.”

IGBA members are also working to create a legal defense fund to use when developers break zone or code laws.

Legal Defense Fund
“We should work through the normal channels first,” said White. “If we can’t come to an agreement, we may have to go the legal route. If we do, we’ll need a lot of expertise and a lot of money.”

St. John residents and groups should look to other communities for guidance, according to Pam Gaffin.

“Let’s look at other areas that have already been raped like Nantucket and Key West,” she said. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

Instead of having a regular meeting next week, IGBA members are urged to attend a meeting with DPNR officials at the Cruz Bay legislature conference room on Thursday, May 11, at 5:30 p.m.