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Petition Aimed at Resurrecting Calabash Boom Project

June 7, 2007 — A St. John man has put together a petition in hopes of getting the Calabash Boom affordable-housing project back on track.
Alvis Christian said he plans to send the petition to the members of the Legislature and to Gov. John deJongh Jr. in hopes they'll take some action. Since he first starting asking people to sign the petition early this week 300 people have signed, he said.
The Calabash Boom affordable-housing project awaits action by the Board of Land Use Appeals thanks to an effort by the ad hoc group Friends of Coral Bay.
"I've yet to hear what are the issues," Christian said.
No one returned a call from the Board of Land Use Appeals asking if a date was set to hear the appeal.
The issues concern the environment, said Alan Smith, a St. Thomas attorney who lives on St. John. They include runoff from the site, the nature and content of the effluent and the decision to use the effluent to flush toilets and for irrigation. Smith also cited the use of wells he said were inadequate to supply water for the project.
"There's a whole host of issues outstanding," he said.
The purpose of the Friends of Coral Bay was not to stop the project but to deal with the environmental issues, Smith said. The group does not oppose affordable housing, he said.
Smith declined to name the Friends of Coral Bay members until he consulted with the steering committee. He did not call back with that information.
The Friends of Coral Bay believe a modification to the Coastal Zone Management permit granted Feb. 22 by the St. John CZM Committee was made without sufficient evidence to justify it, Smith said. (See "CZM Committee Approves Water Modifications for Calabash Boom Development.")
"There were substantial changes in the scope of the project that would necessitate a new application," he said.
When an appeal is filed with the Board of Land Use Appeals, projects automatically come to a halt, Smith said.
Christian charged that the Friends of Coral Bay are trying to delay the project long enough for Reliance's tax-credit program for building affordable housing to expire. It runs out at the end of 2009, he said. Reliance President Robert O. Jackson did not return a phone call requesting comment.
The island desperately needs affordable housing because many St. John residents can no longer afford to buy property or a house, Christian said. Reliance Housing Foundation plans to build 24 town houses that will be sold, as well as 48 rental apartments on 9.2 acres at the Calabash Boom site. (See "CZM Grants Permit for 72 Affordable Housing Units.")
The same company built Bellevue Village affordable housing on St. John and the Lovenlund affordable housing on St. Thomas.
Reliance Housing Foundation started work on the project late last year, but almost immediately the Planning and Natural Resources Department stopped the project by issuing a cease-and-desist order. The department claimed Reliance violated the terms of its CZM permit because Reliance did not get all the necessary Army Corp of Engineers permits for its underwater pipes, which was one of the permit's special conditions.
Planning officials also said Reliance did not submit a spill contingency control plan and a water-and-air-quality certificate to Planning's Environmental Protection Division before work started. Both came under the special conditions.
Reliance then received a modification to its CZM permit on Feb. 22. The modification eliminated the portion of the permit that included reverse-osmosis plant intake and discharge lines used to generate potable water for the project. Instead, Reliance reported that it will depend on wells and rainwater collected in cisterns to supply the needs of residents.
The permit modification also mandates that the foundation start work within one year or the permit will be considered null and void.
Christian suggested that the local government buy land on St. John while it's still available to use for affordable housing.
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