The St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee gave Reliance Housing Foundation LLC representatives the green light to start construction at their Calabash Boom affordable housing development last week.
The committee voted unanimously to lift the cease and desist order against Reliance during a brief decision meeting on Tuesday afternoon, March 13, at the Cruz Bay Legislature Building.
The stop work order was first issued to Reliance in January, after the St. John CZM Committee determined there was illegal construction activity at the roughly eight-acre Calabash Boom site.
The developers plan to construct a $51 million 72-unit medium to low-income community consisting of 48 rental apartment units and 24 for-sale duplex townhomes. A reverse osmosis and waste water treatment facility were also included in the initial plans.
Numerous Special Conditions
Reliance’s original major CZM permit was approved in December 2006 with an extensive list of special conditions attached, some of which required the developer to obtain a number of permits from various federal and territorial regulatory bodies.
After neighbors alerted CZM officials that construction at Reliance’s Calabash Boom site had commenced prior to the developer obtaining the necessary permits, the cease and desist order was issued.
In February, Reliance submitted a request to modify their original permit to eliminate the planned reverse osmosis plant from the project. Instead of the r/o plant, the developer will use existing wells and roof catchments for tenants’ potable water.
Water trucks will be used if not enough water is caught, explained Clifford Graham, executive director of the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.
“WAPA is running a new line from St. Thomas to St. John, so if we need to, we’ll truck water out there,” said Graham.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources officials deemed the modification minor and the request was approved in late February.
Permits In Order
Since then, Reliance officials have submitted copies of their building permit and Spill Pollution Contingency Control Plan to DPNR, thus complying with the special conditions which were previously in arrears, according to CZM staff.
Before wrapping up the meeting, St. John CZM Committee chairperson Julien Harley gave the affordable housing provider’s attorney Treston Moore and V.I. operations manager Jay Cormier a few words of advice.
“Do the right thing at all times,” Harley said. “You have neighbors. Be sensitive to their needs and enjoy your property.”
“There are definitely people who don’t want this project,” the committee chair added.
Harley may have been to be referring to the “Friends of Coral Bay” who have retained Attorney Alan Smith and have alleged that the Calabash Boom affordable housing development would cause serious adverse impacts to nearby Johnson Bay.
The Friends of Coral Bay brought their case to court and before District Judge Curtis Gomez, who issued Reliance a temporary restraining order in January. That restraining order has since expired and both parties are awaiting Gomez’s final ruling.
Graham Alleges “Smoke Screen”
The group is only using the environment as a “smoke screen,” according Graham.
“It’s sad to see that people would use environmental issues as a smoke screen to block affordable housing development,” said Graham. “Nevertheless, we want to go ahead and build this housing for the residents of St. John. It’s a great project.”
Despite the ongoing court case, construction at Calabash Boom is expected to commence within the week, according to Moore.
Ready to Move Forward
“There is no temporary restraining order and no injunction,” said Moore. “We’ll try to get moving right away. This is a good project and the litigation has taken money away from it.”
The cease and desist order and ongoing litigation have also held up millions of dollars of tax subsidies, according to Graham.
“We have about $30 million in tax credit subsidies being held up which would help provide decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing,” Graham said. “St. John is a very expensive and difficult space to build and every day that goes by is an added cost to the affordable housing provider. There is such a lack of affordable housing on St. John — this is a much-needed development.”
Smith was in court last week and not available for comment.