“Sirenusa — whoop, whoop, whoop,” was the cheer from construction workers in support of their employers at a V.I. Senate hearing at the Cruz Bay Legislature Building on Monday night, March 26.
The Senate Committee of the Whole met on St. John to hear Enighed Condominium LLC’s request to rezone their almost five-acre site from R-2, low density, to R-3, medium density, to add seven two-bedroom units to the already permitted 32 two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom units at the site perched above Cruz Bay.
While the senators did not vote on the rezoning request at the conclusion of the hearing around 11 p.m., the matter can be voted on at any Committee of the Whole meeting. The committee’s next meeting had not been scheduled as of press time.
A number of workers with their wives or girlfriends and small children, mostly clad in new T-shirts and ball caps emblazoned with the Sirenusa logo, held placards that read “Support Sirenusa” and “We Need to Feed Our Families” outside the Legisltaure Building more than 30 minutes before the scheduled 6 p.m. start.
More workers and St. John residents packed the benches inside the Cruz Bay Legislature Building where a security guard manned the door.
Workers Get Day Off
The employees were given the day off work in order to attend the meeting, and were paid for the missed day’s work as long as they showed at the Legislature Building, Sirenusa owner Carlo Marzano explained in response to pointed questions from St. Croix Senator Terrence Nelson.
Twenty-one people went on the record against the project and eight people testified in favor of the rezoning.
Represented by former V.I. Senator Attorney Arturo Wat-lington and architect William Karr, of William Karr and Associates, Marzano pleaded his case for the rezoning, citing financial difficulties due to bad topographical maps and surveys, changing plans and delays on the estimated $50 million project.
Sen. David in Support
Former Senator Roosevelt St.C. David, who identified himself as a consultant on the project, also spoke at the hearing on behalf of the developer.
The developers are working under a $28 million construction loan, which they are in danger of forfeiting, according to Marzano.
“I have a construction loan and the bank could pull the loan if this is not a financially feasible project,” Marzano said.
Bank Loan in Danger
The additional units will allow him to secure a second loan and enough funds to complete the project, Marzano added.
“If the variance is not granted there is a very real chance this project will have to shut down,” he said.
Currently about 50 percent complete, the project has cost around $35 million so far, added Marzano, who stressed the importance of keeping the project going for the almost 100 construction employees.
Developers are seeking to add additional units to three buildings on the lowest portion of their site, increasing the two story-plus-mezzanine structures by an extra level. Three additional units would be added to two buildings and one additional unit would be added to the third building, Watlington explained.
The construction would not change the footprint of the buildings or impact views for anyone on or off the site, the attorney added.
The developers continued their disagreement with DPNR personnel, which started at the Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning (CCZP) public hearing regarding Sirenusa’s rezoning request in December 2006.
More than 100 residents attended that meeting where 25 people testified against the project and no one went on record in favor of the rezoning request.
Group Permit in Question
CCZP officials recommended denying the rezoning request in their letter to the V.I. Senate following the December meeting.
The developers should have requested a variance, not a rezoning, according to CCZP acting zoning administrator Marjorie Emanuel.
Confusion remains about the status of Sirenusa’s original group dwelling permit if their site is rezoned to R-3, which would change density, setback, parking and easement regulations for the parcel.
“It is difficult to ascertain what has been requested,” said Emanuel. “The application needs to be clear.”
While adding seven units doesn’t sound like much, it will actually increase the density by 20 percent, explained St. John resident Steve Crumerine, who testified against the rezoning request.
“They were permitted one set of plans and they built a separate set of plans,” said Crumerine about the developers. “It’s all a deception — they tried to sneak in a whole new set of plans. They say it’s only seven more units, but it’s 20 percent more density.”
Neighbors Allege Encroachment
Neighboring land owners allege Sirenusa encroached on their property, according to Attorney Brion Morrisette, who is representing the landowners in an upcoming lawsuit against the developer.
Sirenusa officials have “pushed every conceivable limit at every turn,” and then have “the temerity to ask for more for profit,” said Morrisette.
The developer “offered peanuts” to settle the land dispute, Morrisette added.
“My clients are not willful people and you offered peanuts,” he said. “This is going to court. This is relevant to consider on this matter.”
St. John residents should not have to pay the price because Sirenusa developers commissioned bad topo maps and poor surveys, according to other testifiers against the project.
Bad Topos, Surveys
“He (Marzano) says he’s had problems because of bad topos and bad surveys and DPNR reneged his permit,” said resident Philip Stringer speaking against the rezoning request. “He’s in the hole now and wants the senate to bail him out and guarantee him a profit. When you go into business you realize you are taking a risk.”
“To make a profit, you do the best you can do before construction — that wasn’t done,” Stringer added.
Further taxes to infrastructure, including water and sewage treatment, storm water run-off and traffic were also cited by testifiers against the project as reasons to deny the rezoning request.
Senators should set a precedent against making concessions for developers who sidestep the law, according to Sharon Coldren, president of the 200-member Coral Bay Community Council.
“If this happens with this developer and he gets rewarded by seven additional units, other developers will break the laws too,” said Coldren. “We need your help to say ‘the law is the law, spend money in advance to plan your project right.’”
Mostly project employees and Sirenusa’s listing real estate agent spoke in favor of the rezone request.
“We must deal with growth and the unavoidable problems that come with it,” said John Grammer, a part of the newly-hired management team at Sirenusa’s construction site. “We do not need to shut down Sirenusa to make a point against development. Shutting down solves nothing and serves no one.”
The workmanship at the site is top-notch, according to Joseph Gilbert, another Sirenusa employee.
“It’s amazing the kind of workmanship I’ve seen,” said Gilbert. “I know change is hard for a lot of Virgin Islands people, but I know this is a well-built project. When it’s done you’ll see a beautiful structure.”
“Sorry for the inconvenience, but that is construction and that is change,” Gilbert added.
DPNR originally granted Sirenusa a group dwelling permit to construct 40 living units in 28 two-story buildings. The developers quickly realized the topo maps and surveys were poorly done, and the site was much steeper and contained more rock than previously thought, Karr explained at the hearing.
Karr re-designed the site, condensing a number of buildings and increasing their height.
While Karr alleged he had submitted a modification request to DPNR, officials at the agency say it was never received.
A cease and desist order was issued to Sirenusa in March 2006 after three- and four-story steel structures were erected at the site. DPNR officials quickly lifted part of the stop work order to allow construction to continue on structures to the height allowed under the R-2 zoning.
After DPNR officials denied the developers’ modification request in April 2006, Sirenusa officials submitted a pre-application for a rezoning request.
Senators Celestino White, James Webber, Alvin Williams, Juan Figueroa-Seville, Basil Ottley, Liston Davis, Terrence Nelson, Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, Senator at Large Carmen Wesselhoft and Senate President Usie Richards were present. Senators Shawn Michael Malone, Ronald Russell, Neville James and Norman JnBaptiste were not in attendance.