Green Builders Draw Crowd Opposed to Large-scale Island Development

More than 40 St. John residents vented frustrations about mega-developments, including the recently submitted proposal for a nine-story, 64-unit condominium development at Pastory Gardens, at an Island Green Builders Association (IGBA) meeting at Mongoose Junction on Thursday evening, April 13.

The meeting drew more people than any previous meeting of IGBA, which was founded in 2004. the organization promotes sustainable and environmentally-friendly development.

“The reason there are so many people here is because we’re all shocked about the nature of change on St. John,” said local architect Glen Speer. “We all know it’s changing the nature of St. John. It’s important to decide if we want to continue being the neighborhood communities that we have now.”

No Skyscraper on Love City
“There is no reason why we need a skyscraper in Pastory, let alone the island,” said Catherine Stephen, who lives in the neighborhood.

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About six years ago, Pastory Gardens developers requested and were granted a zone change from R-2 to B-2 to allow the construction of project which included a miniature golf course, bar, restaurant and six condominiums. The condominium portion of the initial project was never constructed.

There are no height restrictions in a B-2 zone, and St. Thomas-based architect William Karr has submitted plans to the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) for a nine-story condominium project, according to several St. John Tradewinds sources.

A DPNR official would confirm only that an application had been filed but was incomplete and declined to comment because it was incomplete.

“The Ritz is only half the height of what he plans to do at Pastory,” local architect Michael Milne said of Karr’s plans.

Stephen circulated a petition to stop the mega-condominium project, which garnered a number of signatures.

Residents also vented frustrations about a number of other large scale developments, including Grande Bay Resort and Sirenusa.

Zoning Codes Not Being Followed
Sirenusa, located in an R-2 zone which only allows for two-story structures, recently began construction of several three- and four-story buildings on the 5-acre site overlooking Cruz Bay. DPNR has since issued a partial cease and desist order for several structures in 13-building project.

“My concern is if they can build this project there, they can build it next to any of our homes,” Milne said.

The public should be informed of proposed construction projects, according to resident Brian Bell.

“We always find out about these things after the fact,” he said. “We should change the way we operate here, to find out about things before hand.”

Some island residents still are objecting to the Grande Bay project overlooking Cruz Bay beach, which has been under construction since 2003. Four owners of one property located next to Grande Bay have sued the developers, alleging privacy nuisance due to zoning violations.

Several people at the IGBA meeting called for taking similar legal action against Pastory Gardens and other developments.

Make All St. John Tier 1
Grande Bay is located in a Tier-2 area, where developments are not reviewed by the Coastal Zone Management Committee. Several people at the IGBA meeting called for designating all of St. John as Tier-1.

“All of St. John should be Tier-1,” said architect Doug White. “If it’s all Tier-1, then every development would require public hearings.”

The proposed $4 million parking garage and vendor’s plaza, planned to be constructed across from the Cruz Bay creek, also came under fire.

More than 1,000 residents signed a petition opposing the construction of the garage at that site, said Senator-at-Large Craig Barshinger.

“I told the Governor that parking was the number one issue on St. John,” Barshinger said, holding the petition. “I will go to the Governor, show him this and ask for an answer.”

The group voted to move forward with four of the numerous initiatives discussed at the two-hour meeting. Members will focus on making St. John all Tier 1, mandating a maximum of three-story buildings, starting a “Save St. John” legal defense fund and protesting the construction of the proposed parking garage and vendor’s plaza.

“Save St. John” Rally
Several residents also called for a rally to get their voices heard before the upcoming elections.

“Everyone I know is upset,” said Laurie Van Kuren. “We don’t know what to do. We need a rally – I think the whole island would turn out.”

“The whole future of this island depends on us coming together and doing something,” she continued. “We need to do something fast, because these developments are happening fast.”

The “Save St. John” rally is still being planned and more information should be available at the next IGBA meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, April 18, at 5:30 p.m. at Mongoose Junction.

Several residents plan to protest the controversial developments, including the parking garage and Pastory Gardens project, at the opening of the Enighed Pond Marine Facility Friday, April 21.