A long awaited and heavily debated comprehensive land and water use plan for the territory may be on the horizon after decades of discussion and controversy.
At Thursday’s Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment and Planning Committee hearing, Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol said the timeline to present a plan to the Senate is two to three years.
But Sen. Alicia Barnes said it should be sooner.
“I think often time it’s intimidating because it is comprehensive and often times we don’t know where to begin … I believe we are further ahead than we think,” she said. “We have had documents that were brought before the Legislature for adoption and so we have a tool, or at least a working document to begin with.”
It was more than 25 years ago when DPNR made the first attempt at a comprehensive plan, which was brought to the Legislature but never passed. Again in 2004, a plan was introduced to the Legislature but not passed.
Oriol said the process of attempting to get a plan adopted has made one thing clear to the department: the zoning code needed to be updated.
The zoning code is currently where the department has put its focus, and Oriol said the goal is to have an overhaul together and submitted to the Legislature by the end of March 2020. He said zoning can be looked at as a building block or a critical element in the effort to establish a solid and viable comprehensive land and water use plan.
“This is in fact a priority for us, we have been actively looking for funding and seeing how we can pay for this and bring it to fruition under this administration,” Oriol said.
Former President of the Territorial Association of Realtors BJ Harris said she was first made aware of the need for a comprehensive plan in 1980.
“It was a very long, sometimes unsatisfactory process, and here we are 25 years later trying to get it right. I believe this time will be the charm,” Harris said.
She added that a comprehensive plan isn’t just about zoning but needs to “build a foundation for a sustainable economy, with a wide range of social and economic opportunities for our citizens. It establishes the rules for development, setting out needs for roads, water, sewer, power, recreational areas, health care, housing and public transportation. It determines the sensitivity of different areas like our waterfront, our guts, our mountains, our forests.”
DPNR Assistant Commissioner Keith Richards said he is encouraged because he believes the current administration is more open and accepting of the massive changes that need to happen to enact a comprehensive plan. He said that though funding has not been solidified for the plan, he agrees with the timeline proposed by Oriol.
Barnes, meanwhile, insisted it could be done quicker. Sen. Myron Jackson agreed. “The can was kicked down the road from one administration to the next,” he said. “This plan has to be delivered during this administration.”