Affordable housing at Calabash Boom got the green light from the Board of Land Use Appeals, which unanimously dismissed the Friends of Coral Bay’s appeal to Reliance Housing Foundation’s major Coastal Zone Management permit modification on Friday, July 6, at the St. John Legislature Building.
The vote stunned Friends’ attorney Alan Smith.
“I’m shocked,” said Smith. “I’ve never known the BLUA to rule from the bench before. The rules require a written and detailed decision.”
“I’d hate to suggest what that implies,” Smith added.
The vote came after about three hours of testimony from Reliance attorney Treston Moore, Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Acting Director of CZM Emmanuel Ramos, CZM legal counsel Dalila Patton and Smith.
Friends appealed the St. John CZM Committee’s February 22 approval of a modification to Reliance’s major permit which eliminated the previously planned reverse osmosis facility and intake and discharge pipes.
Wells, Rain and Trucks
Reliance proposed to meet residents’ needs at the 72-unit affordable housing development by using a combination of existing wells, rain water catchments and trucked water.
Friends alleged that the brackish well water and underlying aquifer would not be sufficient to meet residents’ potable water needs; that using treated sewage water to flush toilets was unsafe; and that the St. John CZM Committee did not have enough information to grant the modification request.
Dismissing most of the objections, Moore called the Friends “hypocritical” and said Reliance scrapped plans for the R/O plant in the first place because of their concerns.
“There was a consistent and constant din from the Friends of Coral Bay about our R/O facility and damage to the environment,” Moore said. “We renewed our review of our water acquisition abilities and decided to take a fresh look at the wells.”
“Were we going to continue our fight with the Friends of Coral Bay about the R/O or try to cooperate with our friends in Coral Bay to change and remove this plant,” Moore continued. “We decided we wanted to be a friend to Coral Bay too.”
Using what he called “recovered water” — waste water treated at the “state-of-the-art tertiary treatment plant” on site — is safe and is in operation in other places, Moore explained.
The adaptation reduces the affordable housing community’s water needs by 30 percent, Reliance’s attorney added.
“We are employing a variety of water conservation efforts so we don’t have to truck water in, and if we do, as little as possible,” said Moore.
Even if water must be trucked in, it will be absorbed by administration costs, according to V.I. Housing Finance Authority’s Executive Director Clifford Graham.
“The long and short of it is that even if water needs to be trucked in, it will be an administrative cost and will not cost residents anything,” said Graham.
While construction will not start immediately, with the BLUA complaint behind them, Reliance and VIHFA are ready to bring long awaited affordable housing to St. John residents, according to Moore.
“We are working at putting in mitigation devices and we’ll start staging and preparatory work,” Moore said. “I can’t tell you things will happen tomorrow but there are a whole lot of people who are waiting for their homes.”
Looking Forward to Construction
VIHFA officials were happy to close the BLUA complaint chapter, explained Graham.
“We’re elated that this chapter is closed,” said Graham. “We look forward to starting on the project to bring desperately needed affordable housing to the residents of St. John.”
Smith did not comment on whether the Friends would appeal the BLUA decision.
“I have to consult with my clients about the next step,” said Smith.
BLUA members Fred Vialet, John Woods, Aloy Nielsen, Elton Chongasing and Jose Penn were present at the meeting. Reginald George and James Hindles were absent.