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Residents Don't Want Drake's Seat Development

May 4, 2005 – Members of the Northside Civic Organization and other area residents opposed a proposed condominium complex to be built near Drake Seat at a zoning hearing Tuesday night.
The hearing, planned by the Senate Committee of the Whole, was called to receive testimony about six zoning requests for proposed developments on St. Thomas. A request for a rezoning of land at Parcel No. 401A, Hospital Ground, sparked much controversy; however, from the NCO and surrounding area residents.
Property owner Bruce Tizes wants the land rezoned from R-1 (residential – low density) to R-3 (residential – medium) to construct a residential condominium complex with 18 units and a "small restaurant for use by the owner and tenants."
Tizes did not appear to testify on his proposed project, but rather sent attorney Derek M. Hodge to represent him.
Hodge said the development would be built within the confines of the R-3 restrictions and would provide for "maximum green space and view corridors without altering the essence of the existing and proposed community surrounding it."
Representatives of the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Coastal Zoning Management Division told the committee that DPNR "endorses" the group concept of dwelling and recommends a use variance for a maximimu of 12 units and a small eatery solely for tenants and the owner.
However, area residents were not buying in to the proposed development, whose access road borders the historic Drake's Seat landmark.
"They're going to block my view, my wind and my sunlight," resident David James told senators.
James' property adjoins the property of the proposed projects, and he said the four-story buildings planned "were too much." James also opposed the idea of housing about 120 people on the approximately 1.5 acres of land.
"That's overcrowding," James said.
Another neighborhood resident opposed the development because it would raise property values and taxes for the surrounding land, placing a burden on anyone not planning to cash in.
In response to one of the senators, Hodge said the condos are expected to sell for between $700,000 and $1 million. "The Virgin Islands needs to attract high-worth people, and this development will do just that," Hodge said.
April Newland, a Realtor who lives in the area, also opposed the condominium complex. "I don't see that there's a desperate need for these condominiums," Newland said, pointing out that 97 condominiums are currently on the market in the Virgin Islands.
Reminding the senators of the need for a comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan, she said, "I think it is a disservice to the people of the Virgin Islands to spot zone willy-nilly without a plan for how these Virgin Islands are going to grow."
NCO President Ann Durante-Arnold expressed a similar view, reminding the senators that the organization had constantly encouraged them to stop spot zoning and develop a comprehensive land and water use plan.
"If we are going to have more development, then we must plan for development, not the other way around," Durante-Arnold said.
Jason Budsan, the NCO's issues chairperson, raised many concerns before the senators, chief of which was the fact that prior to Tuesday's hearing Tizes provided no map or drawings of his proposed development, and no study was conducted on the impact to traffic in the area.
Realtor Lisa Curreri asked the senators if they really needed to "sully the Drake's Seat area with over-development." Curreri said Drake's Seat is already high traffic because of tourists visiting the site, and is also a central artery of the island's road system.
"It seems folly to introduce more traffic to this already stressed highway and popular vantage point," Curreri said.
Curreri said the proposal was a "red herring" and asked senators whether they would want a rezoning on their doorsteps.
"The current owner could well develop the property and build some nice homes subject to the current R-1 zoning, but in getting the land rezoned, he really has something to sell," Curreri said. "The land value escalates big time. He, in fact, may never build as proposed."
Michael Bornn, who lives in the area, agreed.
"This is nothing more than land speculation" by a man who constructed a "concrete jungle" on Peterborg and is facing sanction by the Environmental Protection Agency, Bornn said. Bornn was referring to a property being developed by Tizes along the leeward flank of Peterborg, adjacent to Little Magens Beach
Borne told senators Tizes "did not even have the decency" to appear before them himself, but chose to send "two hired guns" to do his "dirty work." He urged senators not to approve the rezoning.
Senators questioned Hodge about Tizes' plan for the property. Hodge said he could not promise that nothing else would be done to the property, but his client was willing to accept the use variance in place of the rezoning.
Sen. Celestino A. White said he knows that Hodge, the former lieutenant governor, was "just doing his job," but that he was upset with attorney Paul Giminez, who was not present but whose name appears on the zoning change request. White pointed out that since leaving a position within the Turnbull Administration where, he suggested, Giminez made promises to the "big guns," the attorney has "had his hand" in all sorts of development. White told his colleagues they knew what was going on and knew also that Giminez had been instrumental in the sale of Hans-Lollick Island, and the pending sale of the Vessup Bay area.
Most senators also expressed opposition to the proposal for one reason or another.
"I am against spot-zoning," St. Croix Senator Terrence Nelson said. "I have a serious problem with persons that have money and feel like they can push their way around our people and this community."
Sen. Louis P. Hill said he hears loudly the cry for a Land and Water Use Plan. Hill helped push legislation for a comprehensive Land and Water Use bill in the previous legislature when he chaired the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee. The bill's sponsor was Sen. Usie Richards, who was then in the minority. Since the 26th Legislature took office in January, Richards, who is now in the majority, has not pushed the legislation, however.
"It is my hope that we will move in the direction of a Land and Water Use Plan," Hill said, adding they must abide by the current laws in the meanwhile.
Hill said in regards to the Tizes project, "We must act in the best interest of the community. It is always a delicate balance that we need to strike."
All senators were present for the hearing with the exception of Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste, who was excused.

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