Reliance Housing Foundations proposed 72-unit Calabash Boom affordable housing development came under attack from St. John residents at a well-attended V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commit-tee public hearing for a major CZM permit at the Westin Resort and Villas on Wednesday evening, October 26.
Testifiers expressed concerns about the developments impact on nearby John-sons Bay, which has been designated an Area of Particular Concern by the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and the V.I. Under-water National Monument, the size of the project taxing the infrastructure of the area and whether the housing needs of local residents would be met.
It seems there is an over-congestion in the amount of people were talking about in this development I would like to see it curtailed to a smaller number, said Henry A. Powell, a land owner in the area. Things are getting overly congested and thats something wed like to stay away from.
Everything that goes into Johnson Bay will impact the National Monument, said the chief scientist at the University of the Virgin Islands Conservation Data Center, Dr. Barry Devine of Coral Bay. This development is so great that we wont be able to control the negative impacts.
Florida-based Reliance, which is currently completing construction of Belle-vue Village on Gift Hill, is partnering with the V.I. Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA), which owns part of the land, to construct 48 rental apartments and 24 for-sale townhouses as well as renovating the existing senior center and revamping the roadways.
Roadways To Be Altered
The current entrance used by residents who live above the 8.4-acre site of the proposed development would be closed to the public and another road north of the area would be paved for use, according to Steven Hutchins, the architect for the project.
Reliances object is to provide 72 high-quality, durable and comfortable homes for low and middle income families, Hutchins said. Our object is to create a community with a rural residential feel and provide residents with a view, privacy and attractive buildings with the least impacting model possible.
The existing senior center would be renovated to include a computer lab and meeting space and would be available to seniors in the community again once construction is complete, explained VIHFA Executive Director Clifford Graham.
Reverse Osmosis Plans
Plans for the development also include a waste water treatment plant and reverse osmosis intake and discharge pipes which would run along Route 107 north of the site and into the northern side of Johnson Bay.
All sanitary waste is fed to a tertiary treatment plant and we will use 100 percent of the water for irrigation on site, architect Hutchins said at the Wednesday night meeting.
However, residents questioned whether the effluent from the waste water treatment plant would end up in Johnson Bay during heavy rain-falls that saturate the ground.
When there is a lot of water, the treated water will flow into the sea not into the ground, said Dr. Devine.
Reliance proposes to use the effluent discharge to irrigate the land, but with the developed land there will only be three acres of land available for irrigation, said Attorney Alan Smith, who was retained by several home owners in the area to act as a spokesman. If there is a long-term rain it will sit on top of the saturated land and end up in the bay.
Concerns Over Discharge
Residents also expressed concerns over the reverse osmosis intake and discharge pipes needed to meet the water needs of the housing community.
The pipes would be subterranean as they run along Route 107 until the mean high water line and would then run out into the water 200 to 300 feet and dump high-salinity brine into Johnson Bay.
Immediately off the discharge point and intake point are living coral, said Atty. Smith. We are concerned about the long term impacts which have not been adequately addressed in the Environmental Assess-ment Report, Atty. Smith said.
Already taxed infrastructure in the area was another point of contention for residents at the public hearing.
Coral Bay is about 7 percent developed and this project will increase that development significantly overnight, said Dr. Devine. Public services are stretched to the limit now and this more than 30 percent increase will lead to major problems in the area.
Brine Discharge Considered
Amy Dempsey of BioImpact insisted that the sea grass would not be too affected by the brine discharge.
There will be less than 500 gallons of discharge an hour, said Dempsey. Sea grass bed is better to dump on than the reef which is why the pipes are the length that they are.
Many residents at the meeting agreed that affordable housing is a major issue on St. John, but some people questioned whether Reliances development would adequately address the issue.
Shift or Solution?
From what I understand, no preference is given to St. Johnians and the housing is open to other islands and even state-side residents, said Adin Kauffman, a home owner in the area. My concern is that this development will cause a population shift from St. Thomas, St. Croix or the U.S. and will not do much to help the housing needs here.
I think it will end up being a real mess, Kauffman added.
There is a growing need for housing on St. John and we commend Reliance and want to see housing built, but the density and scope of this development are too large for the area and need to be scaled back, said Atty. Smith.
Coral Bay Community Council vice president Barbara Dalmida-Thomas expressed concerns about the developments impacts on the community and impacts that would be caused by the reverse osmosis plant on the only public beach in the area.
CZM Staff Concerns
The CZM staffs preliminary report addressed concerns with the development as well.
Our primary concerns revolve around sewage disposal and brine discharge, said CZM director Victor Somme III.
Other CZM staff concerns expressed by Somme included electrical infrastructure and environmental impacts.
A number of other concerns were submitted in writing by V.I. National Parks Chief of Resource Management Rafe Boulon, the Coral Bay Community Council, the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the V.I. Water and Power Authority and the Division of Planning and Natural Resources, according to Somme.
Low St. Johnian Turnout
CZM Committee Chairman and St. John Administrator Julien Harley expressed disappointment that more residents did not attend the public hearing. I am disappointed that there arent more St. Johnians who would have the opportunity for housing here tonight, said Harley. I thought there would be more St. Johnians testifying. Reliance has seven days to address the concerns raised by the CZM staff and residents in writing, Harley added.
The CZM Committee will conduct a decision meeting on Reliances major application permit for Calabash Boom on November 16 at 6 p.m. at the Legislature Building.