St. John Coalition Aims To Do More Than Just Discuss Island’s Problems

Another community group has formed on St. John, but this one is different, according to St. John Coalition member and Estate Pastory resident Catherine Stephen.

The group formed recently after several large developments, including Grande Bay Resort, Sirenusa and a proposed nine-story condominium development at Pastory Gardens, fueled a wave of public outcry against such building on St. John.

“The coalition came together when a couple of us met when we had all those things going on with Pastory Gardens and everything,” said Stephen. “After going to a couple meetings with IGBA (Island Green Building Association), we just decided to meet together and see how, instead of just talking about it, we can do something about it.”

The group is composed of members who are concerned about the impact of proposed and current construction projects, violations of zoning and Coastal Zone Management laws, and the location of large construction projects that overwhelm existing surroundings, according to the coalition’s drafted mission statement.

Permitting Agencies Persuaded
At IGBA meetings, the coalition’s members learned that “the promoters of these projects had persuaded the permitting agencies…to interpret our zoning, permitting and earth change laws in a manner that was most favorable to them, with little to no regard for the project’s impact on the community, its quality of life, or the island’s limited infrastructure; and our laws and regulations did not require public notice for these projects, regardless of their scale, because they utilized existing zoning and were located outside of the Tier 1 of the Coastal Zone,” according to the mission statement.

Based on these findings, coalition members realized that such developments will continue to spring up across the island without community unification and vigilance, the statement continues.

The group hopes to involve people from all walks of life, according to Stephen.

“The only way we can change things is to involve everyone,” she said. “We want to reach every single person, so everybody can have a say.”

“Genuinely Collective Effort”
Involving as many people as possible will provide the group with a large pool of different skills to draw from, according to the coalition’s mission statement.

“This must be a genuinely collective effort by native St. Johnians and Virgin Islanders, as well as residents originally from other Caribbean islands, the U.S. mainland and other places who have chosen to make St. John their home,” according to the statement. “Each of us has unique skills and perspectives to bring to this community empowerment process.”

There was a good turnout at the coalition’s first meeting on June 4, according to Stephen.

“It was very good, but we didn’t have enough local people like we wanted to,” she said. “So, we have to find a better way to reach them.”

The coalition plans to reach out to native St. Johnians by writing letters to island churches in the hopes that ministers will reach their congregations, according to Stephen.

“We have to reach every single person,” she said. “Every ethnic group, every economic group, every single person has to be reached.”

Build Consensus, Educate Public
The coalition hopes to educate the public on development issues, according to its mission statement.

“The St. John Coalition will…build grassroots community consensus on a vision of St. John’s future built environment; analyze and educate the public on issues that will affect quality of life in this built environment; and influence planning and construction policy, practice and enforcement decisions so as to prevent any adverse impacts that continuing changes in the built environment will have on our community and its quality of life,” according to the statement.

The St. John Coalition’s steering committee met on Sunday, June 11.