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Public Demands More Input Into Island's Development

May 11, 2006 – Concerned citizen Alan Smith summed up what many people at Thursday's meeting on St. John's rampant development seemed to be feeling. "We simply want to be more involved in the process," he said, as many of the nearly 100 people who packed the Legislature building on St. John gave him a round of applause.
The meeting brought out numerous segments of St. John's diverse community, who came to ask Planning Commissioner Dean Plaskett their questions and express their concerns.
Plaskett spoke via speakerphone from St. Croix. However, more than a half-dozen of his staff members attended.
The Rev. Charles Crespo said the people of St. John were concerned about the rate of construction. He said more people had moved to St. John in the last five years than the last 50. "We're really very afraid," he said.
Smith told Plaskett that the time had come for a locally-based and locally-selected planning agency. He said that the island had experienced such rapid change that it was losing its sense of community.
"How do we not feel elbowed out?" Smith said.
In news that also brought applause, Plaskett said that the developers of what was originally slated to be a nine-story condominium project at Pastory, called Pastory Gardens, scrapped the project.
"Their attorney suggested it to me, but I don't have it in writing," he said.
Plaskett denied the project a building permit because he said it was too dense.
Joseph Harrigan was doubtful that St. John had seen the last of that project.
"They'll let it die for two to three years and they try to sneak it through," he said.
He said the condominium project would have blocked his view of Cruz Bay, which he said was an economic asset.
The developers had cut the number of stories to six as their building permit application process proceeded, but members of the community continue to refer to it as the nine-story project.
Ivy Moses referred to Sirenusa – another condominium project that's angered many in the community by its massive size – as "Sirenuisance."
In a statement that angered many in the audience, Plaskett said that Planning erred when it gave the developer a building permit that didn't conform to the plans laid out in the group dwelling permit.
He said the situation was compounded when the developer erroneously thought that Planning's lack of a response to its request for a permit modification meant it was approved. Plaskett said, in fact, the department didn't receive the request.
He said that when residents informed his department about what was going up, he issued a cease and desist order.
This resulted in the developer starting construction on four-story buildings. Plaskett said the developer is now working on a way to convert those buildings to meet the two-story requirement.
Plaskett said that the problem was not one made by the building inspector as some people assumed.
However, several people expressed concerns when Plaskett said that developers must pay for private building inspectors to inspect their projects.
"Sounds like a conflict of interest to me," Theodora Moorehead muttered as she left the microphone.
Plaskett said this was common practice for big jobs on the mainland. He stressed that his staff scrutinizes the building inspector's reports.
He said his department can't hire enough building inspectors because it doesn't have the funding and because it can't pay enough to get qualified people.
Pam Gaffin told Plaskett that real estate advertisements are already on the Internet for a condominium project going up at Bordeaux that has yet to get proper permits.
However, she said that the developer has already put in a driveway, underground power and a retaining wall, apparently without permits. Plaskett said he would have his staff check it out.
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