Grande Bay Rezone Request Gets Overwhelming Support at Hearing

Bay Isle attorney Robert Messick, center, with Elita Kane, left, testifies on behalf of Grande Bay development at a V.I. Senate Committee of the Whole meeting.

The tide has undoubtedly turned for Grande Bay developer Bay Isle Associates, who has faced strong opposition and numerous lawsuits during the years-long construction process of the Cruz Bay luxury condominium development.

The developer’s request for rezoning of its 0.26-acre lot, 3Abc in Cruz Bay, from W-1 to R-4 was met with almost unanimous support from the numerous testifiers who crowded the St. John Legislature hall at a Thursday evening, March 4, hearing of the V.I. Senate.

The developer is seeking its rezoning due to proposed changes to Grande Bay’s building E. The building is currently built out as an empty shell. Bay Isle initially hoped the building would contain two dwelling units, as allowed under W-1; however, due to financial constraints, the developer now wants to construct six condos in building E — three two-bedrooms, and three one-bedrooms.

Bay Isle is also seeking a variance with its rezoning request for the construction of an on-site sundry shop.

In addition to the shell of building E, an amenities building and pool deck have already been constructed on the 0.26-acre parcel, which is directly adjacent to Grande Bay parcel 86-3, where the development’s buildings A, B, C and D are located.

Bay Isle attorney Robert Messick described the rezoning request as “reasonable,” and the new plan for building E as “compatible” with the neighborhood.

More than 10 people testified at the hearing, from island residents, to Bay Isle employees, to Grande Bay owners. Several testified to the complete 180-degree turnaround in the project’s management since co-manager Elita Kane came on board a year ago.

Thomas Hill, who purchased a Grande Bay condo in 2003, was a leader of approximately 20 Grande Bay owners who sued the developer on two separate occasions. Since the change in management, Bay Isle has acted both responsibly and honestly, Hill explained at the hearing.

“The 32 owners are virtually unanimously very much in support of the rezoning,” said Hill. “It’s the right thing to do for the community of St. John. We want what’s best for St. John, and an empty shell doesn’t accomplish that.”

St. John resident Pam Gaffin, the lone testifier who spoke out against the rezoning, urged the Senate not to reward a developer who has not always acted in the best interests of the community.

“When is enough enough?” Gaffin said. “When do we send a message to developers that the Virgin Islands is not a Banana Republic where you can buy your way around any law? I hope the time is now for the senators here to prove they do not care how much money the developer has, and instead protect the citizens of St. John and the island itself.”

St. Johnian Robert O’Connor Jr. urged the senators to ensure responsible developers are welcome on the island, citing the fact that tourism is Love City’s main industry.

“We need to embrace this type of development,” said O’Connor. “When we get more rooms on St. John, everybody benefits. There is no negative impact to St. John.”

Local contractor Todd Wilson, who has been involved with Grande Bay as a consultant, asked the senators to approve Bay Isle’s rezoning request as a means for providing jobs to St. John residents.

“It’s important to help developers be successful so they will invest in the Virgin Islands,” said Wilson. “Any jobs that are available nowadays is a good thing.”

Senators expressed both support and hesitation at Bay Isle’s rezoning request. Senator Wayne James wondered how Grande Bay was allowed in the first place, and said he was “stupefied” when he first saw it.

Senator at Large Craig Barshinger claimed the development is “out of scale” with surrounding properties, and alleged that Bay Isle partners David Band and Kelly Frye wondered “how to pack the most stuff into this very valuable piece of land.”

“We allowed it to happen,” said Barshinger.

In addition to Barshinger and James, senators present at the hearing included Senate President Louis Patrick Hill, and senators

Terrence Nelson and Patrick Simeon Sprauve. The Legislature will vote on the rezoning in the near future.

The Senate also heard a request for rezoning at the March 4 hearing by the Boynes family for construction of a post office.