After hearing from officials, residents offered their own ideas during the three-hour town hall meeting, above.
More than 100 residents packed a ballroom at the Westin Resort and Villas on Monday night, July 19, to hear a litany of ideas from officials and share a few of their own about how to transform the Cruz Bay waterfront.
Hosted by Senator at Large Craig Barshinger, St. John Administrator Leona Smith and the St. John Chapter of the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce, the meeting centered around various ideas for the improvement and development of the Cruz Bay waterfront from the Loredon Boynes Sr. Ferry Dock to the Cruz Bay Creek area.
“Our waterfront has grown a great deal, but we’re still doing things the way we did 30 years ago,” said Barshinger. “Tonight we will launch the process of figuring out how we want to use the precious resource of our waterfront.”
Panel guests included V.I. National Park Superintendent Mark Hardgrove, Department of Planning and Natural Resources planner Stuart
Smith, V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Ken Hobsen, architect Robert deJongh and Homeland Security territorial advisor Noel Smith.
While VIPA contracted the St. Thomas-based architecture firm The deJongh Group to work on the project, there is no concrete plan for the area. Instead, deJongh shared seven possible plans for the waterfront and several residents shared their own ideas of what should happen to the area.
Before even devising the possible plans, deJongh met with a group of St. John residents over a period of six months to hear about problems plaguing the area and to devise possible solutions.
When DPNR hired Smith as a territorial planner, he got involved in the project as well and has relayed the public’s ideas to VIPA.
“A study of Cruz Bay was authorized and encompassed all of Cruz Bay, not just VIPA’s property,” said Hobsen. “VIPA didn’t want to tell deJongh what to do, so we gathered some local residents and had four to five meetings over six months. Then the St. John planner came on board and we wanted his input on planning as well.”
One thing almost everyone in attendance, including deJongh, agreed on was the need to remove the big black fence which runs along the Creek area.
“The fencing is a requirement by Homeland Security, but it serves to eliminate contact between the community and the waterfront in many areas,” said deJongh. “We hope at some point there will be an easing of some of these regulations.”
After much discussion and general agreement to try to remove the fencing, Barshinger pledged that his office would form a committee of residents to appeal to U.S. Coast Guard officials to remove what many considered a blight on the waterfront.
DeJongh showed a series of seven schematic plans for the waterfront area from the Customs parking lot to the Creek. One plan included an amphitheater, one detailed several commercial buildings, and still other plans configured parking and green space with benches and trees along the waterfront.
One plan included a boardwalk from the ferry dock around the Battery peninsula and ending at the Customs parking lot. While some residents liked the boardwalk idea, others expressed concerns over safety and environmental impacts.
The public restrooms — which Department of Public Works officials admitted need to be revamped and expanded — and the pump station located within the parking area can not easily be relocated, explained deJongh.
“We’re not sure of a feasible location for the pump station other than the present location,” said deJongh. “It is essential for sewage disposal and is an absolute necessity. While the existing bathrooms are badly in need of expansion and renovation, they too are needed in their present location.”
Some of deJongh’s plans called for moving the U.S. Customs and Immigration office from its present location to the area where Inter-Island Boat Services currently operates. Most of the plans called for filling in the old boat ramp, located next to Uncle Joe’s BBQ, to create additional parking spaces.
The need to make the area less congested and to create parking topped the list of what many residents considered essential for the Cruz Bay waterfront.
“What we are showing you is as much of a non-plan as it is a plan,” said deJongh. “It’s a point of departure to get people thinking about usages of the waterfront. Where do you want parking, where do you want assembly spaces — we need to discuss these things.”
“Anyone who says we have a plan has only seen one of the seven plans we devised,” said the architect. “We have at least six more plans that you haven’t seen.”
Following deJongh’s 30-minute presentation, St. John Chamber Chapter members Kate Norfleet and Andrew Rutnik presented their group’s ideas of what should happen to the Cruz Bay waterfront.
“Cruz Bay town has grown around the dock and the Creek area has evolved to a mixed use area,” said Rutnik. “Moving the barge traffic to Enighed Pond has opened up opportunities for us. It is important to keep the historical point of entry and its charm and convenience.”
A taxi dispatch system would help alleviate congestion at the dock, Cruz Bay’s Frank Powell Park should be renovated to host concerts and special events, and the Creek should not be made into a commercial area, but turned into a green space to be enjoyed by the community, according to Rutnik.
“VIPA should pursue a scaled down version of its plan until the economy recovers and St. John decides what to do with the waterfront,” Rutnik said. “We should develop boating and yachting interests consistent with the infrastructure of the area but there is no urgency to extensively develop the area.”
Paul Devine proposed a plan that included extending the ferry dock to double its current length in order to accommodate a 60-slip marina on the south side and a walkway with a fish market and vending area on the north side.
Devine’s plan also called for relocating the bathrooms and the Customs and Immigration office from the Customs parking lot, installing lighting and converting most of the area into parking spaces. In Devine’s plan, the Customs office would be located near the Creek, a dock would be built to accommodate an additional marina with space for 40 boats and the black fencing would be removed.
The chance to renovate the waterfront could be the best thing to happen to the island in years, according to Steve Black, who shared his own plan of how to transform the area.
“Cruz Bay could be one of the prettiest towns in the entire Caribbean,” said Black. “That’s where we have to go. The first thing I looked at was the traffic pattern downtown.”
Black’s plan called for directing traffic headed for the ferry dock to the Customs parking lot, which would also house taxis and villa greeters, freeing the dock area from congestion.
A marina should be built along the shoreline of the Customs parking lot area, the road along the Creek should be widened and a sidewalk should be built on the shopping side of the street, according to Black’s plan.
Black’s plan also included a walkway built around the Battery with scenic lookouts and benches, and a park area with benches next to the VINP parking lot.
In addition to his ideas for improving the Cruz Bay Creek area, Black also shared some ambitious plans for the Enighed Pond area.
Following the formal presentations, residents were able to ask questions of the panel and share their own ideas with officials.
Many residents agreed that the area should not be overly developed and the meeting stretched on after 9 p.m. For more information about the waterfront plans, stop by DPNR’s office located in the old Head Start building across from the Elaine I. Sprauve Library.