After three years in office, Governor John deJongh last week made good on his campaign promise to hire a planner to deal with Love City’s growing pains.
Dwindling parking, increasing congestion and over-burdened infrastructure have been a source of complaint for St. John residents for years. For the first time ever, there is now a government employee on the payroll whose job will be to try to correct past mistakes while planning for the future.
After a year-long process, Stuart Smith moved to the territory about two weeks ago from Wilmington, North Carolina, to become Principal Planner for the island of St. John.
He will work out of both the St. John Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Marketplace office and the department’s Cyril King Airport office.
“I will be based both at the airport and at DPNR’s office at The Marketplace,” said Smith. “I haven’t set a schedule yet, but I’ll probably spend half the week on St. Thomas and half the week on St. John.”
Smith is an employee of DPNR’s Coastal and Comprehensive Zone Planning Office and will work under CCZP director Marjorie Emanuel.
The North Carolina planner holds a Bachelors degree in real estate and urban analysis with a minor in community and regional planning.
Following graduation, Smith spent two years in residential real estate before entering the private sector planning field. Smith has worked as a planner for the past eight years, working with everything from utilities to sub-division planning, he explained.
“My family has always been into developing and real estate, so that was my background” said Smith. “I’ve spent the past eight years planning in the private sector, working on everything from forms and utilities to roads and subdivision planning. My passion lately has been environmentally conscious development in marine areas, which would be considered Tier 1 development here.”
Smith — who has visited the U.S. Virgin Islands as a tourist several times — spent about a year applying and interviewing for the planner position and steps into his new role with his eyes open, he explained.
“It was a long process getting to this point — almost a year,” he said. “I have done my internet research since I first applied for the job, so I had some idea of what was to come. I had been to St. John before and fell in love with it.”
“I always wanted to do more here, and I just got my feet wet back home in North Carolina,” said Smith.
The 30-something-year-old plans to hit the ground running, he explained.
“For right now there are some contested projects in appeals so I’m trying to get my hands around those and get a feel for the area,” Smith said. “Parking issues and storm water runoff are some of the big ones that I’ll be dealing with right now.”
The new island planner is fully aware that he won’t be making changes overnight, he added.
“Unfortunately it’s one of those things where we have to, not necessarily make up for other people’s mistakes, but we have to make up for other people’s visions,” said Smith. “It’s going to be a while to sort it out. Certainly moving forward we’re going to try to make the right decisions.”
Smith, whose first official day on the job was Wednesday, February 24, plans to meet the public at community forums and looks forward to getting to know St. John residents.
“I’m a people person so I can’t wait to extend my hand and meet people,” he said. “I am familiar with the island and I have had a chance to tour it again with a different eye now.”
Smith, who did not have an official schedule or have his DPNR email up and running as of press time, can be best reached now through DPNR’s St. Thomas CCZP office at 774-3320.