Despite being given the green light to proceed with construction of their planned $51 million 72-unit affordable housing community in Estate Calabash Boom, Reliance Housing Foundation’s south shore site remains quiet — and not by choice.
Reliance officials are now waiting to hear from the V.I. Board of Land Use Appeals (BLUA) since a group which opposes the project filed an administrative appeal with the seven-member board.
The Friends of Coral Bay, represented by attorney Alan Smith, filed the appeal against the St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee on March 20.
In their petition, the group asks the board to review the committee’s decision to grant Reliance’s modification request which removed the water portion of its permit.
Friends of Coral Bay’s BLUA action is latest in an on-going struggle between the group — who have cited numerous environmental concerns about the Calabash Boom project — and Reliance.
After Reliance’s major CZM permit was approved in December 2006, the Friends group brought their concerns before District Judge Curtis Gomez, who issued the affordable housing provid-er a temporary restraining order in January 2007.
Although that restraining order has since expired, Gomez has not issued his final ruling in the case.
In the meantime, after being alerted to illegal construction activity at the roughly eight-acre site, the St. John CZM Committee issued Reliance a cease and desist order in early February.
The committee cited a number of permits from various agencies which Reliance was required to obtain prior to commencing construction, as outlined in its major CZM permit.
Water Portion Removed From Permit
An Army Corps of Engineers permit, to construct a reverse osmosis facility and run intake and outflow pipes in the waters of Johnson Bay, was chief among the missing permits.
On February 22, the local CZM Committee unanimously voted to approve Reliance’s modification requesting to remove the r/o plant from its plans. Residents in the housing community would instead use existing wells and roof catchments for potable water, Reliance officials explained.
Modification Approval Questioned
The St. John CZM Committee voted unanimously to lift the cease and desist order on March 13, citing that all necessary permits had been obtained.
The CZM Committee’s decision to approve Reliance’s modification request is what the Friends of Coral Bay are petitioning the BLUA to appeal.
BLUA officials are currently working to set a date for the hearing.
Since there is a different matter pending before the board, Department of Justice officials — who are assigned as legal advisors to the BLUA — have not set a date for the public hearing regarding the matter.
“Early In the Game”
“It’s very early in the game at this point,” said a Department of Justice official, who wished to not be identified. “The board is right now looking for a date to handle a different matter. Maybe, hopefully, we’ll set up a date in April — it all depends on the board’s availability.”
Reliance officials won’t work on the site until the matter is decided.
“We’re doing everything we can to speed this along,” said Reliance’s local legal representative Treston Moore. “We don’t plan to do anything at the site until the BLUA’s decision, except work like maintaining the silt fences. Everything is held up because of the appeal.”
The BLUA hears appeals of any person aggrieved by an action of the CZM Commission, its committee, or the Commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources, and consists of residents from all three islands.
The board, which has nine members when full, currently consists of Reginald George, Aloy Nielsen, John Woods, Fred Vialet, Elton Chongasing, James Hindels and Jose Penn. Penn is the sole St. Johnian member of the BLUA.
The delays have cost Reliance a substantial amount of money, according to Housing Finance Authority Executive Director Clifford Graham.
“St. John is a very expensive and difficult place to build and every day that goes by is an added cost to the affordable housing provider,” Graham said.
It seems the those costs will continue to rise, at least until the BLUA hearing.