The Rollers are requesting to change a portion of their A-2 zoned property to B-3 in order to expand their commercial opportunities.
The road to transforming about 13 undeveloped R-2 zoned acres of land into the Coral Bay Organic Garden Center has been a long and bumpy one for farmers Hugo Roller and his wife Josephine.
Roller has been dealing with government zoning hurdles since he conceived of the idea to carve out an organic garden in the Coral Bay area back in the 1980s.
Through the intervening years, he has had to withstand a bevy of government scrutiny in order to get a .89-acre portion of his 13-acre organic farm rezoned correctly in order to allow for a farm stand and prove his tax status, among many other red tape-induced headaches which surely would have driven a less determined farmer from his land. During every step of the process, Roller has remained steadfastly on the right side of all government regulations.
Faced with a lagging economy and limited room for commercial development, Roller is now trying to navigate that windy government zoning path once again.
This time around Roller is requesting that a 2.5-acre parcel of his 13.88-acre farm be rezoned from Agriculture-2 to Business-3.
The move would expand Roller’s current B-3-designated acreage to allow for additional commercial use, he explained.
“The extra space would allow us to lease out land to a tenant to develop commercial use on the property,” said Roller.
Not interested in running another commercial operation themselves — the Rollers also run a successful landscaping business to help subsidize the farm — the farmers envision an established business person operating a commercial venture on the land.
“It could be a small restaurant or a day spa or something,” Roller conjectured. “We don’t have an interest in running more businesses, but we need more income to keep the farm afloat.”
The expanded business zoning acreage of Roller’s land fits in with his overall plan of creating a rural tree-house type of campground on several undeveloped wooded acres of his property.
“The reasoning is we know that Maho Bay Campground will not be sold to someone for $32 million and then see it maintained as a campground,” said Roller. “What you would have to charge for each tent site in order to make that economically viable — it won’t happen. It will either be a private enclave or a luxury hotel project catering to millionaires, but it will not be a campground.”
“That is a niche we’d like to take over,” said Roller.
For now, Roller is holding off on the campground plans since he might not need a zoning change for that endeavor.
Campgrounds are allowed in Agriculture-1 zones — which require a minimum lot size of 40 acres — but for some reason are currently not allowed in A-2 zones, which require a minimum lot size of two acres.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources officials are currently overseeing a revamping of the Virgin Islands Zoning Code, which will hopefully remedy that inconsistency.
While the Coral Bay Organic Garden campground might be on hold for now, the design and possibilities of the facility Roller envisions are tantalizing. Roller’s plans call for building only a few sites at first along an elevated central column, giving campers expansive views while not impacting the environment at all.
The campground would be located on the back acreage of Roller’s property in a wooded area currently in a Forestry Stewardship Program.
“The back acreage of the property is wooded and in a Forestry Stewardship Program,” said Roller. “That program allows you to design your own plan and ours was to enhance wildlife. We’ve maintained the ponds in the back and the meadows and it has worked successfully.”
Starting with only four or five camp sites, Roller’s design for the campground would have visitors sleeping above the forest canopy.
“It’s a very unique design,” said Roller. “We’re going to have about 11.4 acres devoted to the campsite in order for it to be spread out and not clustered. What will make the project truly unique is that all of the sites are going to be elevated.”
“One designer involved in this said it sounded like a mushroom,” Roller said. “There is going to be a central column which will serve as a cistern and be rounded and cast in concrete. The top will be expanding outward with a circular roof and platforms which will be at tree level to break through the canopy and the whole roof will be the solar power, covered with PV panels.”
The elevated campsites will be connected via elevated walkways, giving the whole area a rural Shangri-la feel. Roller’s campground will be last word in enviornmentally-friendly vacationing.
“It will be the most eco of eco-resorts,” said Roller. “Everyone talks about treading lightly, and in this regard, you won’t be treading at all. We’re hoping the campground will spur demand for the farm products and that farm stays are popular.”
“It’s all part of the overall philosophy of getting back to the land and having that rural experience,” he said.
For now, Roller is focusing on rezoning the 2.5-acre parcel from A-2 to B-3 in order to expand the commercial opportunities of his property. DPNR will host a public hearing on the rezoning request in the future and eventually the matter will be voted on by members of the Virgin Islands Legislature.
A meeting on Roller’s rezoning request is not expected for at least a month. In the meantime, residents who support the Roller’s plans can sign a petition backing the rezoning. Petitions can be found at Connections in both Cruz Bay and Coral Bay, Keep Me Posted at Cocoloba, Starfish Market and Post Net at The Marketplace and at the Coral Bay Garden Center on King Hill Road.