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Senators Hear Testimony on Rezoning Requests

June 6, 2006 – Residents made an impassioned plea against further development on the eastern end of St. Thomas at a zoning meeting Monday – particularly opposing the proposed construction of a new Plaza Extra supermarket on a nine-acre site located behind the Fort Mylner Shopping Center and Banco Popular.
"I can't take the emotion out of the fact that we are being concreted on the east end of the island," said former Sen. Stephanie Scott-Williams. "It's getting hotter here in Tutu, and we're losing tree after tree after tree. "
"I'm frustrated by lawmakers who don't yield to the recommendations of people who say that they don't recommend this – instead, this body continues to let things slip by. That is what's crucifying this community. Represent us, please, for a change," Scott-Williams said.
Other opposition to the development came from various vendors in the area, who advocated for the creation of a comprehensive land and water use plan instead of spot-rezonings.
Jason Budsan, owner of Caribbean Herbals in Tillett Gardens, told senators, "We are asking you to tread slowly and carefully when considering applications without having some kind of law in place."
The Rev. Aston Jacinto Brooks said that the new facility could affect the proposed construction of the All Saints Cathedral School, which is planned to relocate nearby. Brooks said another supermarket would "defeat the purpose" of having a quiet setting for education since noise levels and traffic congestion could increase.
Caroline Browne, a board member of the Environmental Association for St. Thomas-St. John, said that the development would contribute to a loss of green space on the East End and could possibly generate large amounts of runoff during the rainy season.
In support of the project, Plaza Extra owner Fathi Yusuf said he wants to build a new facility that could withstand hurricane force winds. "Right now the store we are in is not constructively sound," he said, adding that he has been unable to insure the building since it was damaged in Hurricane Marilyn.
Specifically, Yusuf said that the roof of the building and parking lot is in poor condition. He said the new site would house an 86,000 square-foot supermarket – which is 26,000 square feet more than the current building – along with a 30,000 square-foot warehouse.
He proposed that nine-acre lot on which the facility would be built be rezoned – from R-2 residential low-density to B-2 business – to allow for the construction.
However, Majorie Hendrickson-Emmanuel, division director of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources' Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning Division, told senators that it would be "extremely difficult" to mitigate the negative impacts which could be caused by the development.
Hendrickson-Emmanuel did offer more favorable recommendations on two other requests presented during Monday's meeting – one to grant a use variance for the relocation of law offices to a site in Estate Solberg, and another to allow for the expansion of the Villa Blanca hotel on Raphune Hill.
According to Eugene Smith, co-owner of the property on which Villa Blanca now sits, the rezoning – from R-3 Residential-Medium Density to B-2 Business-Secondary/Neighborhood – would allow for the conversion of the existing hotel into condominiums, office space for sale, a bakery and a restaurant, among other things.
Furthermore, Smith said another portion of the property would be converted into an "eco-park," which would be powered by solar and wind energy.
"Considering the history of the property, this is not a major step," Smith said.
While Hendrickson-Emmanuel said most of the construction could proceed under the property's current zoning, she suggested that senators consider granting a use variance to allow for the development of the office spaces and the possible installation of wind turbines.
DPNR did, however, fully support a zoning request from attorney Samuel Hall Jr., who asked senators for a use variance to move his law practice into the home of his late father.
Senators did not vote on the rezonings during Monday's meeting, since all zoning requests must be sponsored by a senator, incorporated into a bill and approved by the full Senate body in order to be approved.
Present at Monday's meeting were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Lorraine L. Berry, Liston Davis, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville and Shawn-Michael Malone.
Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Usie R. Richards, Ronald E. Russell and Celestino A. White Sr. were absent.

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