Milne Responds To “Architect’s Mud Slinging Is Disgusting”

Dear Ms. Ramsay and the concerned St. John Community,

As an architect I would like to believe that I have a “thick skin” and typically do not worry about name calling or personal attacks, especially when they are unfounded, and typically would not respond because I would rather focus on the design issues at hand. The issue is now unsustainable development and I have spent a great deal of my own time working with such groups as DPNR, IGBA, and the Coral Bay Community Council to improve development practices and prevent damage to our island. With that said I would like to respond to your recent letter without touching upon such personal characteristics as one’s “decency,” “courage,” “intelligence,” or “maturity.”

I believe that in some instances it is necessary for disclosure by those providing testimony at a public hearing. For example, whenever I have spoken or testified at a DPNR hearing of my concern over a project, I have acknowledged that I am an architect and involved with development so as to qualify my position. That is to say that, while I may oppose a specific design or construction project due to apparent problems or violations, I fully support one’s right to appropriate and sustainable development within our community. In that same level of transparency, I felt that when Sharon Coldren testified at the recent DPNR hearing in regard to the proposed Bordeaux Mountain Villas project she did not disclose information that contradicted her claims that the proposed lot was not buildable. I was not trying to demean or insult her in any way for she has done nothing improper in the development of her own property. To the contrary, while we may sometimes disagree, I have said repeatedly that I appreciate her convictions and intentions.

But, if we all are going to have an honest and constructive conversation about our island and development, we must be fair and open about our own situations. As anyone living on this island should admit, it is hard to walk any beach without leaving footprints.

Therefore I regret any misunderstanding that you obviously concluded from my words at the hearing and I now better appreciate how much this topic has polarized our community. As I have already discussed with Sharon, these inaccurate assumptions about her and the intentions for Bordeaux are without basis. Careful development of one’s own land in compliance with the laws and increasing the value of the property should not be considered a “sell out” but a welcome expectation.

Just as I believe Sharon’s comments were not directed at me individually, my comments were neither intended to be a personal attack against her nor an attempt at mudslinging. I simply wanted her and the public to understand the similarities between the proposed project and many typical home sites on St. John. Somehow my comments were twisted and seen to be insulting but my observation was that we all must wrestle with these issues and sought to fairly apply the standards for allowable development.

As evidence that this was not intended as a smear attempt, I would point out again that we, as the permit applicants for the Bordeaux project, did not ask DPNR or the public to consider our proposed project based upon what others have done on unrelated properties. Instead we trust that DPNR will professionally review the proposed design based upon the facts of the permit application, the documents and information submitted, and the design’s own merits.

 After the permits are approved the contractor shall be responsible for the compliance of all construction to meet the terms of these permits and the laws. As professionals we all must accept these conditions and are accountable to both our professional standards and to DPNR, as island neighbors we are all accountable to ourselves and to our community.

Therein is the difference between the Bordeaux presentation and the Sirenusa presentation that I believe many missed. If you feel that the Bordeaux project somehow does not meet the intent of the laws, and we look forward to constructive criticism so that we can improve the outcome.

The proposed Bordeaux project is intended to be a sustainable alternative to typical but destructive half acre subdivisions, to comply with the limitations of the Building Code, to abide by the sensible guidelines set by environmental and historical organizations, to limit its dependency on the community infrastructure, and fulfill the needs of the land owners without impacting 90% of a site. While there are those that may not agree with what was presented, the proposed project has not violated any code or any law. This is very different from the Sirenusa project that has specific permit conditions, has deviated from the approved permits, and has been caught violating these permits on numerous occasions requiring work to be stopped. The comparison between the two projects is, at a minimum, unfair.

Yes, violations of DPNR permits and the law both damage our community and I share your need to stand up against such inappropriate development that is taxing both our well being and the island environment. So I will continue to do my professional best for all projects with which I am involved, working to find a healthy balance between preservation and progress, and shall always be receptive to concerns and constructive comments from my community. But, despite your wish that I keep quiet, I also have a professional responsibility and ethical obligation to make my voice heard when I am aware of problems. In my mind such a stance is not “childish back stabbing” but another step in drawing a firm line in the sand where we need to make changes. Part of that process for change is community awareness and education and, if nothing else, these meetings and articles are energizing us for participation and better community planning. Thank you for your concern and I look forward to working with you in the future.

A. Michael Milne, AIA, barefoot architect, inc.