Sirenusa Developers To Seek Variance for Four-story Condo Buildings

A section of a towering retaining wall at the Sirenusa condominium project overlooking Cruz Bay has been removed and developers are reportedly seeking zoning approval for changes in the project’s approved plans.

The developers of the 40-unit Sirenusa condominium project overlooking Cruz Bay have had their difficulties with government officials over the five-acre project rising on the hillside above a residential neighborhood.

Now, the owners are going to seek a zoning variance or change to allow them to keep the steel frame of a three-story structure — the first of two proposed large structures they hope to build — erected without the permits in early 2006, a DPNR official told a neighbor, according to a St. John Tradewinds source.

While the developers said they had applied for a change in their plans before construction began on the four-story building and assumed it had been granted, Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) officials said no changes in the original permit had been approved.

March 2006 Cease and Desist
In March 2006, DPNR officials issued a Cease and Desist order against the project after the unauthorized structure had been erected within a few feet of the property line in a neighborhood zoned R-2 with a two-story building height limit.

“I have determined that the plans which were approved for the Group Dwelling Permit  are substantially different to those submitted for the Building Permits for the Project,” DPNR Commissioner Dean C. Plaskett wrote attorney Adrian Dudley.

“No approval was rendered by DPNR for the modifications and alterations made to the plans submitted for approval of the Building Permits,” Plaskett wrote Dudley, whom the DPNR Commissioner identified as representing a principal in the Sirenusa project.

“The changes in the plans as submitted to the Division of Building Permits were substantial,” Plaskett wrote. “Primarily, the number of buildings has been reduced from twenty-nine to thirteen; however the scope of the development was not reduced.”

“These changes involve the entire development across all areas of the site and every building,” Plaskett continued.

The two disputed large buildings in the plan “are indisputably three stories,” Plaskett added.

“However a Cease and Desist Order shall remain in  for the two buildings which are consolidations of the eighteen  type “A” buildings and are located at the front of the property and at the lowest part of the hill,” Plaskett wrote Dudley on March 30.

Dudley had argued in a letter faxed to Plaskett on March 29 that the buildings only had two stories above “grade” as measured from the center of the front of the buildings.

‘“My clients understand that they may be required to further modify the plans and/or submit to the zoning change procedure,” Dudley wrote Plaskett.

No Comment from DPNR
DPNR spokesperson Jamal Nielsen did not return telephone calls from St. John Tradewinds seeking to determine why the steel structure had not been removed or if the developers have applied for a zoning variance or a zone change  — which would require a Senate hearing — to continue the construction of the four-story buildings.

The project developers have hired a private engineering company to provide oversight for the project under the supervision of DPNR.

The troubled project has been a bee-hive of activity in recent weeks as a half-dozen pieces of heavy earthmoving equipment and a handful of dump trucks have been re-altering the landscape.

Neighbors below the project were apprehensive earlier this year when a towering wall of boulder-filled mesh baskets rose as high as 60 feet directly behind several homes and was back-filled to expand the upper portion of the project.

Some Terracing Removed
In recent weeks, the contractor has removed truckload after truckload of fill from behind the looming wall and taken down a  20 foot high section because of concerns the terraced wall was unstable.

The project has entailed months of drilling and excavating to shape the hillside parcel to accommodate the buildings initially approved for the project — often with construction start-ups seven days a week as early as 7:30 a.m.

Sirenusa was originally approved by DPNR’s St. John Coastal Zone Manage-ment (CZM) Committee after a sometimes contentious public hearing process.

Major site work has continued on the hillside parcel in recent months while construction continued on the upper portion of the property.