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Land and Water Use Plan Gets First Public Airing

Sept. 22, 2004 – About 35 West End residents filed into St. Gerard's Hall in Frederiksted Tuesday evening to get clarity on the specifics of the proposed Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan. The plan was previewed recently in Senate committee hearings on all three islands. Tuesday was the first time the public was given the opportunity to ask questions and give input on the proposal. And Frederiksted residents came prepared to get answers on the plan that promises to incorporate territorywide land and water use guidelines into the Virgin Islands Code.
Sen. Louis P. Hill, chairman of the committee on Planning and Environmental Protection, hosted the forum. With him was Sen. Usie R. Richards, the prime sponsor of the measure – Bill No. 25-0209. Representatives of the Planning and Natural Resources Department, headed by Commissioner Dean C. Plaskett, stood ready to answer questions. Sens. Emmett Hansen III and Ronald Russell also attended.
Foremost on the minds of the majority of attendees was – how is this proposal going to affect me? Concerns about the future growth of Frederiksted and its economic stability spurred questions on whether the plan imposed limitations on the future development of the economically challenged town.
Frederiksted businessman Robert Merwin said he was concerned about development plans for 80 acres in Estate Sprat Hall. He asked the panel if the bill would affect his plans to develop a residential community for seniors. Merwins' intended development is adjacent to the future site of the proposed William and Punch hotel and resort.
"The zoning has to stay at R-2 or else I am adversely affected," Merwin said. "St. Croix is underutilized. This [the William and Punch project] is a unique opportunity to encourage growth. Present regulations are strangling the St. Croix community."
"The current designation allows for that," Plaskett said. "The zoning allows for residential purposes and related activities. We expanded the usages in the various zones."
Danny Coughlin, a civil engineer and Frederiksted property owner, said he was a proponent of the plan, but he had some reservations.
"If this is a plan for the future, please don't limit economic growth in the use of waterfront properties," he said. Coughlin pointed out that the plan calls for only one boat ramp on the West End. "The fishermen and recreational boaters are vying for space," Coughlin said.
Plaskett explained boat dock areas are designated conservation zones which allow limited development. "Additional docks are permitted," he said.
Copies of the zoning definitions were distributed to the audience.
Gustave James, a local engineer, contractor and Frederiksted landowner, said the plan causes him distress: " Landowners should have the flexibility to develop their property."
V.I. Territorial Board of Realtors member Tony Ayer supported the plan on behalf of the Realtors. "We believe that it is important to update old zoning regulations that are over 30 years old," Ayer said. Ayer gave the panel suggestions for areas that need tweaking.
The 284-page bill can be downloaded at the Source (see below). The bill, if passed, would amend title 29, chapter 3, Virgin Islands Code, to enact the "Virgin Islands Development Law of 2003." Plaskett mentioned that fiscal restraints prevent the department from producing multiple hard copies of the document.
According to Plaskett, the proposed plan provides guidance for a 10-year period, after which the impact will be studied and revised. The plan turns the current two-tier, 18-zone system into seven land districts and five water districts governed by a single set of rules. The new plan provides more flexibility for development. It is based on a less rigid "town-center" approach, incorporating cultural elements in long-term planning. The bill also contains provisions for enforcement of the laws and periodic review of the zoning, he said.
On Thursday night, Christiansted residents get a chance to make comments on the bill. After that, St. Thomas and St. John residents will have their say. All of the meetings begin at 6 p.m. Here are the dates and locations:
— Sept. 23 at the American Legion Hall in Christiansted, St. Croix.
— Sept. 28 at Bertha C. Boschulte School auditorium, St. Thomas.
— Sept. 30 at the UVI Chase Auditorium, St. Thomas.
— Oct. 5 at the Legislature Building in Cruz Bay, St. John.
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.

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