Michael Milne Talks the Talk, But Does He Walk the Walk?

Bethany Pool Villas

Local architect Michael Milne is an ever-present face at public forums, where he speaks out against what he considers unsustainable, unplanned and illegal development. So, when it comes to his own designs for local developments, what is he doing that’s right?

“It’s important to keep what I think are the core ideas of St. John,” said Milne, who heads Barefoot Architect Inc., and who considers himself “pro sensitive-development.”

“We’d like to preserve our environment,” he continued. “The challenge to all architects and designers is to produce design solutions that not only address the client’s needs, but that are also responsible to the communitty and the island.”

Milne cites his firm’s work on Mango Terrace Condos, in Cruz Bay, and Bethany Pool Villas, a few minutes out of town, as illustrations of developments that stay in line with their surounding areas. Both projects are being developed by St. Thomas businessman Eric Tillet.

“We’re trying to be contextual,” Milne said. “We’re trying to take advantage of the neighborhoods and their existing densities, and not trying to do something different from the neighbors.”

Input from Residents
Milne said he coordinated the projects with input from surrounding residents, and ap-proached the designs in a “Caribbean way.”

Both developments are also addressing a major pet peeve of Milne’s—compliance with parking space regulations, which determine how many parking spaces a building must provide based on its size and zoning.

Mango Terrace and Bethany Pool Villas will provide at least the minimum amount of spaces required by law, according to Milne. In the case of Mango Terrace, there will be six spaces for its six condos, the architect added.

Clients Need Convincing
The architect considers his work on Bordeaux Mountain Villas as a showcase for his dedication to “sensitive development.”

The project, at 10-10 Estate Carolina, will consist of 16 condos on more than five acres. Actual construction, however, is taking place on less than 10 percent of the property. Milne said he concentrated on reducing the footprint of the structure as much as possible.

“We want to leave the greatest amount of land completely undisturbed,” he explained.

The design was not what Milne’s clients had in mind at first, and it took some convincing to get them to agree to a less-invasive project, he added. Milne stands so strongly by his beliefs, that he has lost clients who did not share his views on development, he added.

“We’ve separated from a number of clients,” he said. “The toughest part of my job, for any project, is educating the clients on the unique restraints and requirements of St. John, which are different from St. Thomas and anywhere else in the states. This island is much more sensitive, and anything you do will leave a much bigger impact here.”

St. John’s Future at Stake
Milne said his passion is for properly designed developments stems from his interest in the island’s future.

“If our island doesn’t have the‘St. John feel,’ I think people will stop coming here, and tourism dollars are what drive our economy,” he said. “It’s important to do things that are not going to devalue our island, but this is somewhat subjective. Some say building devalues it, while others say that not building devalues it.”

Milne said everyone—architects, developers and citizens—should be held responsible for the future of St. John. Milne said he believes that as long as large developments continue to spring up, the island will suffer.

“Cruz Bay is not going to be the quaint, attractive little sleepy town that everybody thinks of when they’re thinking of a vacation,” he said. “It’s going to be a town of traffic jams, construction, half-built houses, a tangle of utility lines and overwhelmed sewer and power systems. Reefs are going to die and beaches will become littered.”

“Where does Cruz Bay want to be five years from now?” he said. “This is an important question that we all should be asking.”