Coral Bay Residents Ready to Work with DPNR on Land Use, Zoning Maps

Stuart Smith, DPNR’s St. John Planner

Coral Bay residents will have the chance to weigh in on a model land use plan for the area and upcoming changes slated for the territory-wide subdivision codes, Department of Planning and Natural Resources officials announced last week.

The need for planned development took center stage at a Coral Bay Community Council forum on Monday evening, April 14, at the John’s Folly Learning Institute, which featured DPNR’s Coastal and Comprehensive Zone Planning director Marjorie Emmanuel and DPNR’s St. John Principle Planner Stuart Smith.

“We at DPNR have contracted with Rutgers University to undertake a revision of our current code,” said Emmanuel. “They did an assessment of our subdivision codes and their findings indicated that we needed to do a major overhaul of the current code. Now we’re finalizing a contract with Rutgers to have the lead team here late next month to start revising the code.”

“The zoning maps will be updated  as part of this as well,” said Emmanuel.

DPNR will be asking residents on all three islands with knowledge of the subdivision code to join technical advisory committees, Emmanuel added.

“We will pull together three groups, one on St. John, one on St. Thomas and one on St. Croix, to be technical advisors,” she said. “We’ll be looking for eight to 10 people on each island who have knowledge of the code or work with the code.”

CZZP officials believe the process will span about 18 months and will be the first step toward overhauling the entire code and zoning maps, Emmanuel added.

“This is the first step in the process of revising the code which is a massive undertaking,” she said. “The first step is fixing some glaring problems and the next step in the process will be to create a new document or take another look at the old document.”

Coral Bay residents at the CBCC meeting also had a chance to hear from St. John Planner Stuart Smith, who was recently hired by DPNR, but has long dreamed of life in the islands.

“I’ve wanted to live here since I was five years old,” said Smith. “When I was a child, I was lucky enough to spend most of my family vacations in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. I fell in love with the islands and the people.”

While Smith’s background in North Carolina seems like a far cry from local building concerns, he had to deal with steep slopes and costal development as a planner in the private sector.

“Up in the mountains we dealt with a lot of steep slope building and then I moved to the coast where I went into development and planning for the private sector,” Smith said. “For the last three years I dealt with coastal development like marinas and pump out facilities. I didn’t come away with all the answers, but I did come away with the tools to try to find the answers.”

St. John residents should take advantage of upcoming opportunities to have their voices heard as DPNR hosts public hearings to creates rules and regulations overseeing telecommunications and wind energy.

“These meetings are a great opportunity for you to have your voice heard,” said Smith. “These meetings really are going to pay off in the future.”

With its relatively small scale development, Coral Bay presents an opportunity for planned growth, according to resident Carol Beckowitz.

“We have an opportunity in Coral Bay to do a good job,” said Beckowitz. “I hope as we move forward to have more creative input in these zoning areas. Just because they are there, doesn’t mean they are right.”

“We have to think about the future and schools, churches, public space, gardens and pedestrian traffic use,” Beckowitz said.

DPNR has considered those concerns, Emmanuel explained. With the community’s support, the department is hoping to shift the decision power for zoning use from the V.I. Legislature to planning boards on all three islands, according to the CZZP director.

“The revised code will have to be approved by the legislature,” said Emmanuel. “So if you want to make that change from legislature decisions to planning board decisions, the public will have to be forceful in its opinion. The public needs to make its voice heard if that is the direction you want to go in.”