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Long Road Seen Ahead for Land, Water Use Plan

Aug. 24, 2004 – The Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan detailed by Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett on Tuesday night was 34 years in the making. And to hear the members of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee tell it, the proposal comes not a moment too late.
While the lawmakers agreed that the territory needs the planned development and environmental protections set forth in the 284-page bill, they also made it clear that the people of the Virgin Islands need not expect changes any time soon. But if the nearly 50 persons who showed up in the Senate chambers to sit and listen are any indication, the people of the Virgin Islands are highly interested in what those changes might be.
While citing a need for environmental balance and a land use plan that is fair for all, Sen. Roosevelt David said "it's got a long way go," stretching out the word "l-o-n-g" to make his point clear.
Bill No. 25-0209, sponsored by Sen. Usie R. Richards, brings to fruition a mandate going back to 1970, when DPNR was known as the V.I. Planning Office. Over the intervening years, a few attempts have been made at drafting a thorough land and water plan for the territory, but none has made it into law.
The current plan, Plaskett told the committee, will turn the current two-tier, 18 zone system, into seven land districts and five water districts governed by a single set of rules. Plaskett, a lawyer, described current laws as inadequate for planning the territory's future. He said they've led to "rapid and unplanned growth," environmental degradation, and a territory where "unconstitutional spot-zoning is the norm."
He also pointed out that they make no mention of the cultural and social impacts of development.
On the other hand, Plaskett said, the new plan, based on a "town-center" approach, will be less rigid, incorporating cultural elements in long-term planning and providing "sound guidance for a 10-year period." In the new plan, as summarized by Plaskett on Tuesday, highly specific regulations will govern land and water use within each district. The bill also contains provisions for enforcement of the laws and periodic review of the zoning.
Land use on St. Thomas and Water Island is broken down as follows: Agriculture (4 percent), Conservation (53 percent), Low Density (20 percent), Moderate Density (12 percent), High Density (7 percent), Urban (1 percent) and Industrial (3 percent). The water districts follow a similar pattern, with the lion's share slated for conservation. "Conservation" as used by DPNR allows for limited development.
In order to achieve the pin-point districting of the Virgin Islands, literally done plat by plat, it was necessary to create a new set of maps. Stevie Henry of the Eastern Caribbean Center at the University of Virgin Islands has been working to create the maps, and he showed how digital and paper maps are keyed to various data.
Sen. Louis Hill, the committee chair, said another informational hearing — with no public testimony — on the bill is scheduled for Sept. 8 on St. John. Tuesday's hearing on St. Thomas was the second; the first was held Aug. 18 on St. Croix.
After the St. John presentation, Hill said, a series of town meetings will be held for members of the public to air their views on the proposed plan. "We want this debate to be an educated debate, not an emotional one," Hill said.
Plaskett said he expects people will have a lot to say, once they have an opportunity to review the plan. "We are prepared to meet their questions and concerns," he said.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone pleaded with his colleagues not to let the plan "suffer at the hands of bipartisan politics." He said: "We must at all costs work together on this plan."
For further information about the plan in its current state, see "Land and Water Use Plan to Make the Rounds Again".
You can access the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan here.
To view the maps, click here.
Note: These files are very large and could take several minutes to download.
The committee members present Tuesday were Sens. David, Carlton Dowe, Hill and Malone. Sens Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Ronald Russell and Almando "Rocky" Liburd were excused. Sens. Usie Richards and Douglas Canton, not committee members, also were present.

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