The Department of Planning and Natural Resources is focused on improving its institutional integrity and updating its severely outdated data, Wanda Mills-Bocachica, the department’s Director of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning, told Coral Bay Community Council members at a Monday evening, February 18, meeting at the John’s Folly Learning Institute.
Speaking to about 30 CBCC members, Mills-Bocachica outlined the department’s recently revamped mandate and explained how she is working to improve efficiency and accuracy.
“We’re opening ongoing dialogue between the various divisions within DPNR instead of working apart,” Mills-Bocachica said. “We’ll have better monitoring because of the increased communication between the divisions. We’re moving toward having a very integrated department.”
The department has received about 30 resumes from across the country to fill the long-promised St. John planner position, according to Mills-Bocachica.
Broad Range of Individuals
“We started a national recruitment and have received 30 resumes and we’ll continue to accept resumes until March,” she said. “We have a broad range of individuals and I’m sure from this we’ll get an entity who can really facilitate planning on St. John.”
The island planner position will deal with all sorts of development issues, from aesthetics to site design issues, the CCZP director added.
“I’d like to see the person have an architectural background because I’d really like to see more focus on aesthetics,” she said.
With a tight budget and small staff, Mills-Bocachica had her work cut out for her when she accepted the CCZP director position.
“Taking this position was a leap of faith,” she said. “The division gets only two percent of DPNR’s overall budget and we only had eight people on staff. We just got one additional staff member though, so now we have nine.”
Not Re-inventing the Wheel
During her first quarter as CCZP director, Mills-Bocachica took a number of trips to bring staff members up to date on the latest trends in other developing areas.
“We went to Curacao, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Philadelphia and Williamsburg, Virginia,” said Mills-Bocachica. “We wanted to determine where we stand as far as state of the art practices and alternatives to development. We identified a trend nationally, regionally and globally toward sustainable development.”
“We changed the division’s mandate to reflect this trend and promote sustainability,” she continued. “We want to ensure the long-term use of our current resources and avoid compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs.”
DPNR is definitely behind the times, Mills-Bocachica admitted.
“Our long-range plan is for orderly and coordinated growth,” she said. “We have a lot of catching up to do in this regard, but please be patient with us. We’re getting there.”
The department is finalizing a consulting agreement with Rutgers University’s Center for Development to help it update zoning and subdivision codes, explained Mills-Bocachica.
Partnering with Rutger’s University
“The code is somewhat vague and some contradictions exist,” she said. “The Rutgers consultants will take a look at the code and make recommendations and even go beyond that. The consultants will look at ways of developing sustainable communities.”
“We’ll draft a land and water use plan and meet with stakeholders like this group,” Mills-Bocachica continued. “It should take three to four months, but by July we should have a clear idea where we stand with our zoning and subdivision codes.”
The CCZP director is aware that ambiguities and even contradictions exist between the V.I. Code and DPNR’s zoning and subdivision maps, she explained.
Following the Law, Trying to Reform It
“We are proceeding with reviewing applications that we have and being more proactive by consulting with individuals which will lead to reform of our zoning and subdivision codes,” said Mills-Bocachica. “So we’re following the law and we’re trying to reform it.”
DPNR’s data management system is also a major source of concern, Mills-Bocachica added.
Dysfunction Data Management
“We have a very dysfunctional data management system,” she said. “We’re really working in peril. We must improve the accuracy of our records — it’s an area that needs a lot of work.”
The CCZP director outlined 10 tasks her division will focus on with the goals of improving service and efficiency and updating data as well as zoning and subdivision codes. But the division is working under pressure, according to Mills-Bocachica.
“But my vision for the division has been, for me and the administration, a long-time coming,” Mills-Bocachica continued. “We will update our methods, keep a competitive edge in the region and promote sustainable development.”
Wind Energy Possibilities
Moving toward sustainable development, CCZP is exploring wind energy technology ordinances, Mills-Bocachica explained.
“We’ve been moving along in that direction, but we’re still deciding who will be the clearing house,” she said. “Our biggest challenge is staffing. But we are drafting an ordinance to set up the zoning parameters.”
Estate Concordia is taking the lead on the island’s wind energy front by installing wind generators for a two year experimental phase to look at how the technology affects residential areas.
The CCZP director is a proponent of dealing with each island’s unique planning needs individually.
“Each of our islands has its own unique qualities which need to be addressed,” Mills-Bocachica said. “My preference is to divide and treat each island separately. Your planner would be your specialist here and look at specific concerns on the island.”
Improving Community Outreach
Although it’s not the easiest position, Mills-Bocachica, who earned several architectural and planning degrees from various universities, always planned to return to her home territory.
“It would be easier to work someplace else, but I love these islands,” she said. “I want to improve our community outreach. That is why I am here tonight — to reach out to you so you can feel comfortable reaching out to me.”