June 16, 2004 – While the territory's proposed Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan may be back on the front burner, it's not yet ready for public consumption, according to several people involved in the process of finalizing it.
A bill calling for adoption of the plan is being sponsored by Sen. Usie Richards. Legislative counsel Yvonne Tharpes said her office drafted the bill but cannot release it until it is introduced in the Senate. Richards was off-island on Wednesday and not available for comment.
Sen. Louis Hill, who chairs the Senate Environmental Protection and Planning Committee, said he expects to start public hearings on the plan in July. But he said he does not have a copy of it yet, either.
"As soon as we have it, we'll share it on a disk with community groups," he said.
Marjorie Emmanuel, director of Planning and Natural Resources Department's Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning program, said on Monday at a meeting of the Coral Bay Community Council that copies would be available from DPNR.
The Source tried to obtain one Tuesday from the Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning office at Cyril E. King Airport but was told the office did not have the right kind of computer disks to make a copy. The Source was subsequently also told that the 500-page document could not be e-mailed.
Emmanuel said on Monday that there was a copy at the St. John Administrator's Office. However, that proved not to be the case. "They never brought it over," Corrine Matthias, an office staff member, said. She said the administrator's office has asked for a copy.
An earlier version of the current Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan was developed by DPNR nearly 10 years ago after a long series of public hearings. However, it failed to become law.
An issue for some Coral Bay Community Council members was the length of time that has passed since public hearings were held on the plan. Emmanuel said at the Monday meeting that her agency held hearings right after the plan was first conceived in 1989.
According to League of Women Voters member Helen Gjessing, unless there have been substantial changes, the plan as it was originally written was broad enough to encompass the last decade's growth. "The general principles shouldn't change," she said.
Emmanuel said on Monday that except for updated maps, the plan is about the same as before.
It calls for the entire territory to be looked at as one tier. Currently, the territory has two tiers, one along the shores and the other inland. Development proposed for the shoreline tier gets closer scrutiny. Under the new plan, inland development will face more scrutiny than it currently gets.
"The single tier system is a major step forward," Gjessing said.
The new plan also calls for replacement of the current zoning system with "intensity districts," with "intensity" referring to density.
Gjessing said the earlier efforts to get the plan through the Senate failed for political reasons. Real estate people and those who wrote environmental assessments for developers "spread all kinds of confusion and fear," she said. "They said rights would be severely curtailed."
To the contrary, Gjessing said, the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan gives people more rights concerning the use of their property.
The plan calls for mixed business and residential neighborhoods. Hill said this would allow for small businesses such as bed and breakfasts to be located within what are essentially residential neighborhoods.
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