As news of the Legislature’s Tuesday night, April 17, vote to approve Sirenusa’s zoning variance request circulated around Love City, residents expressed disappointment, but not much surprise.
The Senate voted 13 to 1, with St. Thomas Senator Louis Patrick Hill the lone dissenting vote, to approve Sirenusa’s request to rezone their five-acre Estate Enighed site from R-2, residential low-density, to R-3, residential medium-density.
The change allows the developer to construct an additional seven units and an extra story to three buildings.
“I don’t think the vote really surprised a lot of people,” said Alvis Christian, St. John Deputy Director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency. “From the meeting in March, you could tell it was going to pass.”
The Senate vote came despite the recommendations of both the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Legislature’s legal counsel to not approve the request. “DPNR, legal counsel and the entire community of St. John came out against this rezoning,” said Estate Enighed resident and Sirenusa neighbor Don Porter. “The issue is not about seven units blocking someone’s view. The issue is really about development in St. John and how we as a community are going to deal with it.”
“It’s unfortunate,” he added. “I’m very disappointed with (Senator at Large) Carmen (Wesselhoft).”
The Legislature’s stance sets the stage for future anything-goes development, Porter explained.
“I’m not saying this was shoddy development, but it opens the door for shoddy development down the road,” he said.
Wesselhoft does not represent everyone’s wishes, according to Porter’s wife, Katie Porter.
“Speaking for myself, I would say we’re pretty enraged that our only representative here obviously does not represent the will of all the people on St. John,” said Katie Porter. “I am hugely disappointed.”
Another neighboring resident of the Sirenusa site went a step further.
“Carmen Sold Us Out”
“I think Carmen (Wesselhoft) sold us out,” said Don Lynch. “I’m very disappointed.”
In addition to ordering a gubernatorial veto, Governor John deJongh should take a closer look at the Senate’s action, Lynch explained.
“I think the governor should veto the whole project, plus someone needs to look into it for kick-backs and payoffs,” he said. “It was very tricky how they pulled it off. They knew what they were doing.”
“I think the governor should veto this,” Lynch added.
Developers Don’t Deserve Rezoning
The developers, who previously came under fire from Department of Planning and Natural Resources officials for erecting unapproved three- and four-story structures, should not have been rewarded for their actions, according to Sharon Coldren, president of the Coral Bay Community Council.
“The violations and development practices that this development has engaged in do not warrant an award of rezoning,” said Coldren.
Senator Celestino White, who proposed the rezoning bill — which was not on the agenda — about six minutes before Tuesday’s legislative session was ending often backs such measures, Coldren added.
“Celestino White never met a rezoning that he didn’t like,” she said. “So it’s not a surprise that the bill passed, but it is a surprise that this new Legislature, which had committed itself to following good, open legislative practice, is still using surprise bills as a tactic to pass unpopular legislation.”
Disheartening and Discouraging
The Senate action further discourages constituents’ hopes, Coldren continued.
“The item was not on the agenda and the legislature is still using these surprise tactics to discourage and dishearten the people who want their representatives to work for them,” she said.
A number of residents have been circulating the Government House phone number and urging people to request that Governor John deJongh veto Sirenusa’s zoning variance.
“I think people should use whatever means they are most comfortable with to contact the governor’s office and the newspaper so he will know that the people of St. John want the governor to veto this legislation,” said Coldren.
“People should also push the senators into re-thinking their positions so they will avoid an override.”
Residents can contact Government House at 774-0001 or email deJongh at firstname.lastname@example.org to share their opinions on the Sirenusa rezoning legislation.
The St. John community will be watching for deJongh’s reaction.
“We will be watching very closely the governor’s view of this issue,” said Coldren. “He has access to all of DPNR’s records on this project.”