Senate Approves Zoning Changes to Increase STT Business

Testifiers and senators chat during a break Thursday. (Photos by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

The Senate Committee of the Whole discussed a number of zoning and variance changes Thursday that would allow business expansions on St. Thomas, including an additional 21.6 acres for Market Square East and a 70,000 square foot solar facility for E&C Development LLC – called Bovoni Number Two.

Before the Senate considers zoning changes, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources reviews ownership documents, maps, tax clearance letters, present and conceptual site plans, and holds a public hearing. After DPNR recommends an application, it is forwarded to the Legislature. Some applications must also be approved by V.I. Coastal Zone Management.

Gershwain Sprauve, owner and chief executive of Market Square, requested more than 21 acres of undeveloped land in Estates Raphune and Donoe be rezoned to B-2, and a small parcel of two acres be rezoned from commercial to R-2. The purpose of the request is to attract new businesses and conform the property with the Square’s other parcels, he said. Sprauve also recognized that construction of the Raphune Hill-Weymouth Rhymer Highway will create new business opportunities.

“This will allow for the best use of the property, as it creates meaningful development and economic opportunity for the future, an initiative consistent with the Comprehensive Coastal Zone Plan,” Sprauve said.

Then Eric W. Castro, managing member of E&C, granted power of attorney to Kent Bernier, Jr., who said the proposed construction on government-leased land would cost $6 – $7 million dollars. He requested rezoning from Business to Commercial for the first project of its kind on the island, he said. The facility will be powered by a Tesla solar generator and not tie into the V.I. Water and Power Authority grid.

Despite objections received by the Department, E&C was recommended by DPNR with the condition they change the location of the entrance/exit, which was done right away.

Another project, presented by former senator Allison Petrus and his daughter, Kaya Petrus, would increase the size of the 12-year-old Petrus Plaza by constructing a two-story structure on 11,095 square feet of government-owned land adjacent to the current business. They also want to rezone the land from Public to B-3 (Business Scattered). The company intends to develop a small strip mall with about five tenants ranging from retail, restaurant, office space, etc.

Kaya and Allison Petrus discuss a zoning change with the Committee of the Whole,
Thursday. (Photos by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

During the public hearing, an adjacent property owner expressed opposition. They were concerned about traffic problems involving vehicles patronizing Petrus Plaza and said the new use will cause flooding on neighboring properties.

DPNR recommended approval of Sprauve and Petrus’s request and senators voiced their support.

Other requests involved a use variance request by Sunshine Parking LLC to add 29 storage units to a commercial parking lot and an easement request from Leslie Phipps through government-owned land.

A zoning change was requested by Diego Lima, Jr. to lease storage space in his two-story building for business purposes – such as retail or office space, while the second floor will remain apartments.

Acia Brathwaite received verbal support from senators to rezone her aunt’s house from Residence to Business, where she will convert the lower level into a beauty salon.

The Soraya Diase Coffelt Living Trust requested rezoning around 13 acres of property from Agriculture to Residential-Medium. Part of the property will be sold to the Community Baptist Church, which has leased the land for years, and low-income housing may be built on the remaining parcel.

Some senators expressed support for all of the projects when they questioned applicants, including Sens. Milton Potter and Janelle Sarauw. Sen. Marvin Blyden said it is good to see “local developers doing good things.”

Sen. Novelle Francis asked why the process for applying for zoning changes can’t be streamlined.

“The law doesn’t allow a different process. It depends on where the property is located,” Keith Richards, assistant commissioner of DPNR, said.

Richards said it is up to the Legislature to change the process and some things may change in the next year and a half.