Residents Voice Growing Frustrations About Large-scale Island Development

Growing opposition to large-scale development on St. John drew a large number of residents to the April 18 meeting of the Island Green Building Association.

More than 50 residents vented frustrations about the on-going surge of large-scale development across Love City at an Island Green Building Association (IGBA) meeting on Tuesday, April 18.

“The purpose of this meeting is to share our feelings about what’s going on on St. John,” said architect Glen Speer. “Right now St. John is being controlled by politicians and bureaucrats, not by us, who pay their salaries.”

Recent mega-developments—from the Grande Bay Resort project along the Cruz Bay waterfront to the controversial Sirenusa condominium project on a ridge above The Marketplace in Estate Enighed—have raised the ire of a number of Love City residents opposed to the changing face of St. John.

Unify as Single Voice
Residents at the meeting called for unity among the different segments of the island’s community to fight the large-scale development.

“I cry every day at what is happening to St. John,” said St. Johnian Rafe Boulon. “If we can unify as a single voice, we can get things done. We need to speak up.”

“I was not born here, but I love this place and I don’t want to see it destroyed,” said Pam Dolson.

IGBA members distributed petitions calling for designating all of St. John as Tier-1, which would require public hearings for all developments on St. John. Another petition opposed the proposed parking garage and vendor’s plaza slated to be constructed across from the Cruz Bay Creek.

Residents had different opinions about what actions would make a difference and stop the increasingly rapid pace of development. Some members proposed organizing a rally to “Save St. John.”

“I’m upset, along with a number of other people, about the development that has been going on,” said Laurie Van Kuren. “I think it would be productive to have a rally. The rally could have a two-pronged effect.”

“Save St. John” Rally
At the rally residents could distribute political information, including senator’s phone numbers and email addresses, hold a voter’s registration drive and start fund raising for a legal defense fund, Van Kuren explained.

“Everyone who lives here and calls St. John home is really upset,” she said. “We want to see a rally organized in the next three to four weeks.”

A planner is what St. John needs more than anything, according to St. John Administrator Julien Harley.

Island Needs Planner
“Your petitions should be for a planner,” he said. “Rally for a planner—that is where you need to put your energies.”

Various people, who publicly oppose some developments while benefiting from others, should “stop playing games,” Harley added.

“The main thing that you are not talking about is trust,” he said. “There are people in this room who I don’t trust because they play games.”

Harley opposed Grande Bay Resort’s luxury condominium project rezoning proposal and asked Gov. Charles Turnbull to veto the request.

“That was one of the times that the governor listened to me,” he said, and added that some people at the IGBA meeting changed their perspectives about the project after benefitting personally. “Once the developers donated to a recycling plant, they got your endorsement. Until the games stop being played, nothing will happen here.”

Long-term Vision Needed
St. John needs a long-term vision for how residents want their community to look and feel, according to Attorney Alan Smith, a past Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) Commissioner.

“We need to develop short-range objectives within a long-range vision,” Smith said. “I don’t see this coming from any centralized government planning. We must do the hard work ourselves in our island communities.”

The current DPNR zoning laws are out of date, Smith continued.

“The current zoning laws were made before we knew that St. John would become a mecca for people to visit as tourists,” he said. “When we made the laws, it was laid back, little St. John. We are now facing the reality that mega-bucks have found our island.”

Enforce Current Laws
Instead of devising new zoning laws, citizens must insist the laws on the books be enforced, according to resident Pam Gaffin.

“We have laws that aren’t being enforced,” Gaffin said. “Making new laws is a waste of time. We need to enforce the existing laws.”

The group proposed five short-term objectives at its last meeting which it will continue to work towards: making all of St. John Tier-1; imposing a three-story height limit for all development; opposing the proposed site of the parking garage and vendors plaza; creating a St. John legal defense fund; and insisting on meaningful DPNR action.

The next IGBA meeting will be on Tuesday evening, April 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the V.I. Legislature in Cruz Bay.