Senators Weigh Up Rezoning, Lease Proposals

A vacant lot proposed to be developed for medical offices and apartments. (Photo submitted by Dr. Joanne McDougal Patterson)

Senate President Novelle Francis called the rezoning and lease agreements senators discussed Wednesday at a Committee of the Whole hearing as matters of economic prosperity. Voting on the items will happen at a future full Senate session, but senators expressed support for most of the measures.

One request evincing the concern of some senators was a request to rezone Plot No. 94-F Estate Diamond, Queen Quarter, St. Croix from low density to medium density. The rezoning would allow for a proposed two-story building with medical offices on the first floor and residences on the second floor.

The building would face Route 79, Claude A. “Bennie” Benjamin Memorial Drive. According to a report from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources recommending approval of the request, “The property is adjacent to some of the strongest commercial activity on St. Croix with Sunny Isle, VIYA, the hospital, and movie theater within walking distance.” The property is less than half an acre and presently vacant.

Joanne Patterson, whose mother’s property is next to the property that could be rezoned, wrote a letter to DPNR. She said, “There are numerous reasons to strongly oppose this request…I encourage you to review the deed for plot 94-E. It states that commercial businesses cannot obstruct our view. The question that should be posed to the requestor is ‘Would you agree to this if this were your mother’s property?’”

Patterson’s sister Dr. Ereka L. McDougal also wrote a letter read into the record at the hearing. She wrote, “Clearly, this land was never intended for commercial use due to the location and size … The space is not realistically sized for the proposal of a commercial space. My mother, Melva McDougal, possesses the deed which states that future land owners shall not obstruct her view and the land must be developed solely into a residential property.

“The lack of parking will eventually spill over in front of our property with people going back and forth on a daily basis,” she said. “This is not how my mom envisioned retirement.”

Angela Henry is the property owner requesting the rezoning.

Sen. Allison DeGazon said, although economic development is important, the rights of home owners to protect their neighborhoods need to be respected.

A request from the Department of Property and Procurement for a small piece of property it owns on Centerline Road in Peter’s Rest, across from the Cool Out Bar, to be rezoned for business also raised questions from the senators.

The property is near a sharp curve on Centerline Road, which raised concerned about traffic congestion and possible traffic accidents.

Laverne Baily, Property and Procurement deputy commissioner, told the senators rezoning would open opportunities for the government to lease the property and generate income.

DPNR’s territorial planner Leia LaPlace-Matthew said requests to use the property for either a car wash or a restaurant have been fielded.

A request by Kings Alley Management, Inc. for a permit to replace the wooden decking on a 99 ft. long by 10 ft. wide dock off the Christiansted boardwalk, and its 24 ft. wide “T” at the end, will likely have no problem being approved by senators, but funding might be a problem.

Nathan Simmons, who represented the applicant at the hearing, said FEMA funds were available after the dock was damaged from Hurricane Omar, but were not used. He said he does not know what happened to those funds. The dock was destroyed in Hurricane Maria and Simmons said new FEMA funds might be available.

Also discussed at the meeting Wednesday were two government leases. One, at Estate Recovery Hill, Company Quarter, St. Croix, is for Alliance Data Service to install and operate equipment for internet services. The five year lease would be for an annual rent of $ 12,000.

Michael Carty, of Alliance Data Services, said the government needs to support local, black-owned businesses in the communication business. According to Carty, by granting the lease, it will give local small businesses options to venture into new technology that is needed in the Virgin Islands.

The second lease agreement considered is with Marco St. Croix, Inc. for Plot No. 182 Estate Anna’s Hope, Company Quarter, St. Croix, so Marcos can operate a recycling center and automobile detailing center.

Kirwin Augustin represented Marco St. Croix at the meeting. He said half a dozen jobs were lost when the previous recycling center was shut down and that recycling would lessen the burden on the St. Croix landfill.

Committee members present during Wednesday’s hearing were Francis, Myron Jackson, Alicia Barnes, Oakland Benta, Marvin Blyden, Allison DeGazon, Dwayne DeGraff, Donna Frett-Gregory, Kenneth Gittens, Stedmann Hodge, Jr., Javon James Sr., Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Steven Payne Sr., and Kurt Vialet.