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Planning Commission Might Improve Zoning Issues, Says Expert

Planning consultant Stuart Meck noted that a territory-wide planning commission could improve the V.I. zoning code.A Planning and Natural Resources consultant outlined progress on proposed changes to the territory’s zoning code Thursday at St. Ursula’s Multipurpose Center on St. John.

Stuart Meck, who heads the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, said that among the recommendations is a proposal to name a territorial planning commission, which would serve as a sounding board for planning proposals.

The commission would be a 15-member advisory body with no regulatory powers. Seven members would come from V.I. government departments and agencies, and nine to be appointed by the governor.

“I’ll amend this to include a member from each island,” Meck said.

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In discussing other recommendations, Meck said that one goal of what he termed the territory’s Development Plan is to make it unnecessary to go through the Legislature for for things like rezonings.

“It reduces their burden,” he said.

The Development Code will bring together in one document all the territory’s codes that pertain to development. It will clarify definitions, making it easier for both the government and the developer to know what’s allowed and what’s not.

“It defines things like mezzanine,” said Stuart Smith,

director of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning.

That particular term has been controversial, particularly on St. John when developers used it to construct buildings taller than many in the community preferred.

Smith said mezzanine was one of about 20 terms that needed better definitions.

Another change calls for issuance of a zoning permit before work on a project begins in order to ensure that the site is properly zoned for the project.

The Development Code will also make matters clearer for the community.

“It will make it harder to do things wrong,” Meck said.

The Development Code does not rezone existing areas but will serve as a guide for future development.

While Smith and Meck both said that this section of the process wasn’t too interesting for residents (none of whom were in attendance Thursday), both expected by the time they got to the section concerning subdivisions, more people will be interested.

The current work concerns what they termed Module 1. The subdivision work is in Module 4.

Work started in earnest in August 2010. Meck said he expects to complete the work in March 2012. After that it will be up to the Legislature to approve the Development Code.

According to Meck, the Legislature appropriated $200,000 for the job.

Planning held a meeting Wednesday on St. Thomas. A similar one is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Florence Williams Library in Christiansted, St. Croix.

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