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HomeNewsArchivesRezoning Request for Luxury Condos Stalls in Senate

Rezoning Request for Luxury Condos Stalls in Senate

Sept. 11, 2007 — Try as they might, senators and testifiers could not come to a common ground Tuesday evening on a rezoning request that calls for the construction of a set of luxury condominiums atop Flagbury Hill on St. Thomas.
The proposed building site spans about 23 acres of hillside property overlooking the Charlotte Amalie harbor. It is bordered by Estate Thomas on the north, Frenchman's Bay on the south and Paradise Point on the east. A large segment of the land will remain in its current undeveloped state, but the proposed condominiums, a clubhouse, gym, spa and luxury villa will take up about two acres, or 100,000 square feet of space, according to representatives from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
To make the development a reality, property owners Glen and Dorothy Elskoe are requesting that the site be rezoned from R-2 (residential-low density) to R-3 (residential-medium density). Such a designation would minimize damage to the surrounding hillside and cut down on the number of accompanying roadways and retaining walls needed to carry out the project, they said.
According to the development designs, each condo will typically have three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms.
"The buildings are designed as long, thin blocks oriented to the view," the plans say. "This configuration creates the opportunity for cross-ventilation and consequent passive cooling. The orientation to the contours also means that the buildings are nestled into the hillside, navigating the extremely steep grade without the need for extensive retaining walls or columns."
Each unit will also be ecologically friendly, employing "green design" practices meant to reduce the negative impact of buildings on the surrounding environment, said Project Manager Aaron J. Martin.
While senators expressed excitement about the concept, representatives from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources said the proposed rezoning would go against certain restrictions laid out in an agreement between the Elskoes and a neighboring landowner.
"Additionally, the R-3 zoning generally applies to flat terrain or foothill areas," explained Julius Jessup, the Coastal Zone Management's senior planner. "Higher-density projects are generally not located on the hilltops themselves. Granting the proposed rezoning could alter the treatment of local hillsides and how R-3 zones are mapped."
Jessup recommended that the family either stick with the current R-2 zoning or seek an R-4 designation, which would decrease the height of each building, but also allow for an increase in the number of buildings.
Wanda Mills, DPNR's planning director, added that the recommendation was not a personal attack against the Elskoes, but rather reflects some of the more pressing issues the department faces.
"While I approved this request during the pre-application process … I also voiced my concerns about the project to the owners at that time," Mills said. "We are very supportive of the family, but we also have a larger community to deal with. We, at the office, are continually reviewing upper-end developments, as opposed to developments that service lower- and middle-income individuals. So what we are also saying is that we see an imbalance in the type of residential activity that is occurring in our territory."
It would be more expensive to seek an R-4 designation, according to the project's architect, Leonard Gumbs. But DPNR held fast to its recommendation throughout the evening, forcing senators to try to eke out a compromise between the two parties.
As he wrapped up the meeting, Sen. Ronald E. Russell said the only thing the group could really agree on is that the Legislature, at the end of the day, has the final say on how the project will progress.
"So we'll see how it turns out," he said.
Senators did not vote on the proposed rezoning during Tuesday's Committee of the Whole hearing. The request must now be drafted into bill form and approved by the full Senate.
All senators were present Tuesday.
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