A new bus depot and operations center for the Department of Public Works are slated for Coral Bay.
A five-acre parcel of land located at 6-4 Estate Carolina off of Centerline Road was recently transferred from the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation to the Department of Public Works — raising the ire of neighboring residents.
In a letter to V.I. Governor Charles Turnbull dated July 7, DPW Commissioner George Phillips requested the property to be transferred to his department “for the establishment of a VITRAN Bus Depot and a Coral Bay Public Works Operations Center.”
Although St. John Administrator Julien Harley confirmed that the land has been transferred to the DPW, HPR Commissioner Ira Hobson had no information about the status of the land.
HPR Commissioner Against Transfer
“Unfortunately, no one sent me any documents about the transfer,” he said. “No one did me the honor or the respect to give me a copy of any deed that was transferred. The governor supercedes everyone, but usually you are given notice and a copy of the transferred deed.”
Hobson does not think the land should be transferred, he said.
“I don’t think very positively about transferring this land,” he said. “I am speaking with a group in the Coral Bay area about developing the area. Until I am able to satisfy myself that we weren’t going to use that area for recreational use, I don’t think it should be transferred.”
Recreation is not a high priority in the territory, according to Hobson.
“This takes on a very dim view of the community because sometimes we lack the full foresight,” he said. “Recreation is a very important aspect of every community and that is the last thing that anyone thinks about around here. Recreation, sports and open space are things most people don’t think very highly of.”
Land Well Suited for Facility
The Coral Bay land is an apt location for a Public Works Operations Center, according to Phillips.
“After careful and protracted planning, we have determined that this particular parcel of land is well suited for the construction of such a facility, and it would allow this department to remove its assets away from the congestion of Cruz Bay,” Phillips wrote to the governor.
“In addition, with the rapid ongoing development of Coral Bay, placing a facility at this site will allow this Department to provide more timely and frequent infrastructure services not only in Coral Bay but also throughout the island of St. John,” the commissioner continued in his letter.
At least one neighbor in the area, however, doesn’t agree.
Land Intended for Recreation
“I don’t think this is a good use of the land,” said Lorelei Monsanto, who lives nearby and whose family sold the land to the government about 25 years ago. “The land was sold to the government for recreational purposes — it’s not in the deed, but that was the aim. We need recreational facilities here in the Virgin Islands, and especially here in St. John.”
The rapid pace of development in Coral Bay is a reason to preserve the land, not develop it, Monsanto explained.
“Being that green space is becoming sparse on the island of St. John, we need the land for what it was intended — to be a recreational facility,” she said. “The flat land in the area is being developed with marinas and other enterprises. There is nothing for the kids right now.”
“Our quiet enjoyment will truly be destroyed if this facility goes in the proposed location,” Monsanto added.
“The land was in the property of Parks and Recreation for a reason and we were hoping to have a public recreation area there,” said Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren.
Best Interest of Island
Neighbors in the area should consider what is in the best interest of the island, according to DPW St. John Deputy Director Ira Wade.
“We’re looking at the greater good for Coral Bay,” he said. “The way Coral Bay is growing, we need to give it more attention. This is being planned in the best interest of the community.”
Coral Bay needs more attention, Wade added.
“It is simply the (DPW) commissioner’s intent to provide Coral Bay with the same level of service from Public Works that Cruz Bay gets,” he said. “If we have a station in Coral Bay we would have immediate response to problems when they arise in the area. Instead of sending a vehicle eight miles down the road, we could dispatch it from within Coral Bay.”
VITRAN plans to increase its St. John fleet, but there is no space for a proper maintenance facility, Wade explained.
Expanded Maintenance Needed
“With the current plans to increase the VITRAN fleet, the commissioner wants to put a facility on St. John,” he said. “It won’t be a massive facility. It would be a facility to do nothing more than contain a garage and equipment to provide basic maintenance.”
“Right now the facility that we have here to care for the buses is marginally adequate,” Wade continued. “With the proper facility we could do more maintenance here.”
Residents should not imagine a sprawling bus depot, Wade added.
“The entire 5.5 acres of land is not going to be covered with buildings and buses and stuff like that,” he said. “Things will be properly garaged. We are only dealing with a small portion of the land.”
Although DPW officials understand the area is residential, the site is suitable for an operations center, Wade said.
“We recognize that in the periphery there is a residential area,” he said. “There’s not going to be a lot of noise and stuff. The vehicles there are not loud — we have noise suppression apparatuses on all of the equipment now.”
“The area is suitable to this type of facility,” Wade continued.
Calling for Long-range Plan
The transfer of land without the consent of the public highlights the local politics that go on “behind the scenes,” Coldren said.
“Something like this should be done as part of a long-range plan for appropriate land uses and not simply placed on land that is a target of opportunity because it is government-owned,” she said.
“Now that the people of St. John know what kind of behind the scenes planning is going on, let’s get the planning out in the public eye and talk about it as part of an over-all planning process rather than establishing an industrial use in Coral Bay without considering all the environmental and quality of life impacts,” Coldren continued.
The proposed use of the land is out of sync with the surrounding property, Coldren added.
“This land is directly below a R-1 residential area and no one had anticipated such a noisy, intensive public use,” she said. “This needs to be carefully evaluated.”
The area in question is within the Coastal Zone Management’s Tier 1, meaning the DPW will need to apply for and be granted a major CZM permit for their project.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources spokesperson, Jamal Nielsen did not know whether the DPW applied for a major CZM permit.
Phillips did not return repeated calls from St. John Tradewinds requesting comment.