In a motion that divided the residents gathered in the Cruz Bay Legislature Conference Room, the St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee (CZM) unanimously approved Reliance Housing Foundations major land permit to construct a $24.8 million, 72-unit affordable housing development in Estate Calabash Boom.
Reliance plans to build eight six-unit rental apartment buildings and 12 duplex townhomes for sale on about eight acres of land across from Johnsons Bay, along the southern shore of Coral Harbor.
Plans for the development also include construction of reverse osmosis and waste water treatment plants, and renovation of the existing senior center.
Water Permit Approval Recommended
The St. John CZM Committee will also recommend that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull request approval of the proposed water permit. Turnbull must ask the Legislature to approve major water permits, according to U.S. Virgin Islands law.
About 50 residents packed the conference room on Thursday evening, Dec. 28, to hear the CZM Committees decision, following a heavily attended public hearing in October, where many expressed strong objections to the proposed development.
Im very excited, said Reliance President Bob Jackson after the meeting. Weve had a deep commitment to this development for a long time, and we are glad that we could work through the concerns of the community.
When we finish, the development will be a real asset to the community, and we are excited to be doing it, he added.
However, about half the residents in attendance were not pleased with the committees recommendation.
Environmental Impacts Not Addressed
I just dont think that the CZM Committee made Reliance come up with the necessary data, said Coral Bay resident Adin Kauffman. The numbers that Reliance provided dont represent reality. The effect on Johnsons Bay from the reverse osmosis line was not addressed.
Despite CZM Director Victor Somme IIIs assertion that the public was duly involved with the decision-making process, residents felt that the deal was sealed without their input.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this development, said Bonny Corbeil, a Calabash Boom area resident. I want people to have homes, but it seems that all this had been decided ahead of time, instead of by residents who live in the area and care about the environment.
Some community members applauded the committees decision.
I am elated that the government did its homework, said Barbara Dalmida-Thompson. Reliance stepped up to the plate and will ensure that the project will be safe for the community, both those for and against it.
The V.I. Housing Finance Authority (HFA), which owns the land and is partnering with Reliance on the project, was also pleased with the favorable decision.
Affordable Housing Needed
We have been trying to get into the St. John market for affordable housing for 11 years now, said HFA Executive Director Clifford Graham. We will be able to provide quality affordable housing at a time when the prices of homes are becoming cost-prohibitive for many residents.
The CZM Committee balanced the need for affordable housing on St. John with the developments potential stress to the environment, according to committee member Gerald Hills.
Everyone had to compromise, he said. We took into account the importance of affordable housing.
A key factor in Hills approval of the development was the preservation of the beach at Johnsons Bay, which is an Area of Particular Concern (APC), as designated by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
No Regulation for APCs
Despite the existence of APCs throughout the territory for more than 20 years, CZM officials have never implemented regulations guiding construction in the sensitive areas.
The proposed reverse osmosis plant will draw water out of the bay and discharge high-salinity brine back into it.
Original plans called for the intake and outflow pipes to be above ground until they reached the high-water line, a provision that was amended in the committees final decision.
The line from the road to the ocean will be buried three feet, Hills said. The distance from the road to the shore will be untouched.
The committees approval came with a number of special conditions, most of which were routine. One condition, however, requires Reliance to absorb all costs of solid waste disposal, which cannot be disposed of on St. John.
Reliance will have to transport all solid waste from the development to the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas.
The Calabash Boom development will be Reliances second on St. John. It is completing construction of Bellevue Village on Gift Hill, a project that some community members say has been mismanaged.
Chairman Says, Do the Right Thing
We have been hearing complaints about the last project that you did, St. John CZM Committee Chairman Julien Harley told Reliance officials at the meeting. We want you to do a better job. It is very important that you guys do the right thing.
If Turnbull forwards a favorable request to the Legislature, and the water permit is approved, construction could start in the spring. The project is expected to last about 24 months.
Residents with grievances have seven days from the date of the meeting to submit their objections in writing to the CZM.
St. John CZM Committee members in attendance were Harley, Hills, Andrew Penn and Edmund Roberts. Madeline Sewer was absent.