Dockside, Parking Problems Focus of Town Meeting

Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) Commissioner Dean Plaskett stood strong through more than three hours of questioning by concerned St. John residents Tuesday, November 29. Plaskett, along with other DPNR officials, V.I. Port Authority representatives and Senator at Large Craig Barshinger, was on hand for a town meeting at the Westin St. John Resort and Villas, giving residents the opportunity to share their concerns and seek answers regarding building and development on St. John.

Problems in V.I. Government
Plaskett began the meeting with a short statement acknowledging that there are problems in the V.I. government. “We recognize there are problems in the government which require solutions – I’m not perfect,” said the commissioner. “There is a disconnect between us and the public.”

Before taking questions, Plaskett also spoke on the Dockside building, which became the main topic discussed at the meeting.

“That property is not in the first tier of CZM, so the heightened scrutiny is not required,” said the commissioner. “The construction going on was not representative of what we approved.”

After discussions between DPNR officials and Dockside owners, the decision was made to grant the occupancy permit with a total of seven parking spaces – four of which were given to Dockside by VIPA, said Plaskett.

The three designated parking spaces at Dockside brought the total number of parking spaces for the business up to seven, which is one short of the eight that are required.

DPNR Has Leeway
The building was approved with less than the required number of parking spaces because DPNR has “leeway in the application of the law,” said Plaskett.

“We’re trying to work with people to not stop development,” said the commissioner. “If we apply the code stringently, we would have a serious problem.”

Several residents indicated concern that this practice of negotiating with businesses regarding parking spaces has contributed to the parking problem in Cruz Bay.

“Maybe we should make everyone provide the required number of parking spaces,” Plaskett said in response to audience concerns. His statement was met with cheers and applause.

“While I’m commissioner, there will be no more buildings in Cruz Bay without the required number of parking spaces,” Plaskett added.

Dockside Spaces Challenged
Despite DPNR’s assertion that there are three parking spaces on Dockside’s property, there are no legal parking spaces which meet the required measurement of nine by 18 feet, said local architect Michael Milne.

“There is not a single legal parking space on that property,” said Milne.

“If the department acts not congruent to the code, file an appeal with the Board of Land Use Appeals – work stops immediately,” replied Plaskett. “(Dockside’s parking spaces) are permitted; prove me wrong.”

“If someone sees something wrong, bring it to our attention,” the DPNR commissioner added. “We can’t see everything; we’re not perfect.”

Retribution “Utter Nonsense”
Milne voiced concern that his complaints to DPNR would result in less of his permits being approved.

“That is utter nonsense,” replied Com-missioner Plaskett.

After several residents questioned the legality of the parking spaces at Dockside, Plaskett promised to look into the matter and make a decision by Friday, December 2, on whether to revoke the building’s occupancy permit.

As of Friday, December 2, no decision had been made on the permit, according to DPNR spokesperson Jamal Nielsen.

Residents also questioned the nature of the agreement that was made between Dockside and VIPA.

“I have not seen a written contract with Dockside and the Port Authority,” said one resident. “I want to see it, read it, feel it, eat it, whatever it takes.”

Plaskett produced a written contract between the business and government agency, detailing an agreement which provided VIPA access to run power lines under Dockside property to provide power to the ferry dock in exchange for the parking spaces in VIPA’s parking lot.

No More Leased Parking Spaces
Several residents questioned why VIPA would give parking spaces to a private business, and many asked if they could have parking spaces from VIPA as well.

“Is the Port Authority going to set a precedent?” asked one resident.

“Assuming Patrick (owner of Patrick’s West Indian Delight) was mobile, could he rent two spaces?” inquired Sen. Barshinger. “Is it equal treatment for all?”

St. John resident LeAnn Oquendo shared her frustrations with attempting to build her house to code and include the “By the time we finished following the rules and regulations, I had to build up instead of out and it cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Oquendo said. “Can the Port Authority give me parking?”

“There is currently no plan for leasing any further parking spaces,” said Gregory Dale, Director of Engineering at VIPA in response to residents’ concerns. “What I only can do is take concerns and questions to the executive director (Darlan Brin).”

Residents Offer Suggestions for Parking
VIPA’s agreement with Dockside is evidence of a bigger problem on St. John – parking.

“Over the past 15 years, many businesses have been built without adequate parking,” said Sen. Barshinger. “Cruz Bay is a disaster in terms of trying to find parking; we who live on St. John have created this situation.”

“We have to recognize there is a lack of space on St. John,” said Bob O’Connor. “There are several substandard lots in Cruz Bay owned by local people.”

A combined parking garage and vendors plaza has been proposed to alleviate the parking problem in Cruz Bay, although residents are in disagreement when it comes to the garage’s location.

Current plans call for the parking garage to be built across from the Cruz Bay bulkhead, where Nature’s Nook is presently located; however, a petition in support of building the garage where the tennis courts are currently located is circulating. The petition seeks 1,000 signatures.

“We really need that parking garage,” said local architect Rob Crane, who has previously stated his preference that the garage be located at the tennis courts. “Sell spots to businesses who don’t have adequate parking.” One resident questioned St. John Administra-tor Julien Harley on the location of the parking garage as Harley and VIPA officials attempted to leave the meeting early to catch a ferry back to St. Thomas.

“Yes, I do know (where the parking garage will be) but I’m leaving,” said Harley.

Another resident later thanked DPNR officials for staying to answer their questions, citing VIPA and Harley’s early exit as one of the problems St. John residents have with V.I. government officials.

“They come over here, answer a few questions, and then hurry to get on the boat back to St. Thomas,” said the resident.

Despite rumors that plans are in place to build the parking garage across from the Cruz Bay bulkhead, no permits have been approved for a parking garage to be built anywhere, said Commissioner Plaskett.

DPNR Enforcing Decades-Old Laws
As several residents expressed their frustrations with development on St. John, Plaskett repeatedly stated that DPNR simply enforces laws, and that residents should turn to their legislators to change the laws if they are unhappy.

“If you want the laws changed, you need to talk to him,” said Plaskett, waving his arm toward Sen. Barshinger.

DPNR’s zoning laws have been in place for decades, said one concerned resident.

“We are now operating in the 21st century on 30-year-old-plus laws,” she said. “We need to revisit them.” Another resident agreed that legislators are responsible for the outdated zoning laws.

“If you want to get things done in the Virgin Islands, the people can change the government,” said the resident. “It’s our fault – we put the senators in in the first place.”