More than 100 St. John residents showed up in force to blast Sirenusa owner Carlo Marzano at a public hearing on Tuesday morning, December 12, at the Cruz Bay legislature building.
Marzano, managing partner of Enighed Condominiums LLC, has requested a zone change from R-2, residential low density, to R-3, residential medium-density, on the almost five-acre site above Cruz Bay in order to construct an additional seven units at the 40-unit luxury condominium project.
The St. Thomas businessman was represented by attorney Arturo Wattlington and architectural firm William Karr & Associates representative Caliex Gumbs.
The request was presented to personnel of the V.I. Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning, a unit within the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and CCZP director Marjorie Emmanuel led the hearing.
Standing Room Only
Nearly 100 people jammed the conference room and a few protesters stood outside holding signs with messages like “Make Them Tear Illegal Buildings Down” and “No Bending The Rules.”
Inside, 25 residents took the microphone and berated Mar-zano for a litany of offenses, including noise, pollution and disregard for DPNR codes.
The developer, who is currently allowed to construct 40 units at the site under his original group dwelling permit, requested the zone change to allow for the construction of up to seven additional two-bedroom units, although Marzano said he was “90 percent sure” there would only be six new units.
The addiotional units would be located in three buildings on the lower portion of the Sirenusa site, and would raise one of the buildings an entire story in height.
Developers requested a legislative variance, not an “out-right zone change,” but a “conditional re-zoning,” said Wattlington.
Although the developer ex-plained they are requesting only up to seven additional units, CCZP senior planner Julius Jessup said the application was unclear.
“Wording on the application form gives me some concern,” said Jessup. “From this it seems you can build anywhere from 28 to seven units — it’s not clear.”
These issues were cleared up at a pre-application meeting be-tween the developer and DPNR officials, which Jessup did not attend, explained Wattlington.
While the additions would only slightly impact the overall site, they are needed in order to make the project “more financially feasible,” according to Marzano.
“I appreciate the fact that most people here are very anxious about what we’re asking for,” said Marzano. “I’m a Virgin Islander — I’m not here to take advantage and take off. What we’re asking for here will not have an impact.”
“The project already has an impact — I understand that,” Marzano continued. “This addition, I think, is a relatively small alteration to our site plan.”
When questioned by Coastal Zone Management Director Victor Somme, Marzano said he did not need the additional units in order to complete construction, but the project would be more successful with them.
Testifiers against the project included island architects, a real estate company owner and neighbors. No one testified in support of the re-zone request.
“‘No structure shall exceed two stories,’” architect Michael Milne read from Sirenusa’s original group dwelling permit. “Since then there have been so many changes, trust from the community has been violated. At what point do we say enough?”
Density at the site is already incompatible with the neighborhood, explained Island Green Builders Association co-founder and architect Doug White.
“This project is a text book example of irresponsible development,” said White. “It will put monstrous demands on the already inadequate infrastructure on St. John. This project is definitely not in harmony or balance with the environment.”
The home of Benedict Regis, which is adjacent to the construction site, floods with every rain because of run-off from Sirenusa.
“There is water coming down my step into my living room because of this development,” said Regis. “Something has to be done about it. You don’t respect anyone — you are totally wrong.”
Sunnilal Ramnarine, another neighbor who lives below the construction site, brought his camcorder and showed Marzano pictures of water and mud pouring onto his property during a recent rainfall.
“Before the first hearing, I came and asked ‘when rocks come down my hill, what will you do,’” said Ramnarine. “They said ‘none will come.’ Huge rocks came.”
On a small island that has seen a tremendous amount of change and development in the past few years, this project is the last straw, explained Bonny Corbeil.
“This project is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Corbeil. “Our infrastructure can not support this. St. John has had enough.”
A recently-circulated petition opposing the re-zone request garnered 600 signatures, according to Katie Porter, who also testified against the project.
Sirenusa developers say one thing and do another, according to Cid Hamling, who read a letter by local architect Terry Fields.
“It is my opinion, based on observation of the facts at hand and of recent events that the developers and the architect in charge of the project known today as Sirenusa are guilty of the most heinous disrespect imaginable to the people of St. John and their governing bodies,” Hamling read from Fields’ letter. “I cannot fathom the mentality of a group of people who will say one thing and do another in such obvious contradiction. Their actions are nothing but an insult to the intelligence of the people of St. John and the laws of these islands and to those who have sworn to uphold them.”
When widening an access road by about eight feet, Sirenusa developers encroached on the land of two neighbors, according to attorney Brion Morrisette, who was representing clients Lillian Smith and Charles Paris.
Encroaching on Neighbors’ Land
“Eight to 10 feet of the road bed and tons and tons of fill was pushed onto my clients’ property,” said Morrisette. “My clients feel a sense of outrage. Unless and until my clients’ consent is obtained, their road is invalid and illegal and this cannot proceed.”
CCZP officials had no idea about the encroachment, but will look into the matter, explained Emmanuel.
“If there’s a problem, there’s a problem,” Emmanuel said.
Officials should not set a precedent that allows this type of development, said Holiday Homes of St. John partner Christie O’Neill.
“I beg the government, legislature and DPNR not to set these kinds of precedents for future developments on St. John,” said O’Neill. “I’ve not heard any valid reason for this re-zoning request.”
In Sirenusa’s original permit, the developers were allowed to tap into municipal water and sewer lines.
Density at the site would increase if the re-zoning request is granted, which might exceed the limit that municipal lines can handle.
Emmanuel requested a letter from Water and Power Autho-rity stating they can handle the additional density at the site.
Once completed, the project will blend into its surroundings, Marzano explained.
“This is a relatively large site in the middle of construction,” said Marzano. “Once complete, I believe, for a project of this size, it will be a project that blends in with the hillside and doesn’t scar it as said before.”
Marzano should apologize to the community, according to Steve Simon.
Calling On Real Estate Agents
“After what I’ve been hearing today, you sir, as the owner, owe this community a huge apology,” Simon told Marzano. “And you have a responsibility to go and meet individually with your neighbors who have dust and water in their homes, and make it right.”
“I call upon the real estate industry on St. John not to represent your property until you make it right,” Simon added.
CCZP officials now must submit a report with their recommendation to the V.I. Legislature within 30 days. The Senate Committee of the Whole will hear the request and either pass legislation for the change or deny the request.
It is uncertain if the 26th Legislature, which can request CCZP’s report sooner than 30 days, will ultimately decide Sirenusa’s fate, or if it will be up to the 27th Legislature, which will take over in January.
It remained unclear after the meeting whether Marzano would have to request a modification to his original group dwelling permit to reflect the increased density and building heights.
Anyone who did not attend the meeting can submit written testimony to CCZP — which should be done as soon as possible — by faxing Emmanuel at 713-2418.