Making good on promises to get out of the housing business for good, the V.I. Port Authority has begun looking for contractors for a new development in Lindbergh Bay that would house the residents of Estate Bournefield.
The authority sent out copies of an advertisement for "real estate services" on Friday, along with a release that said VIPA is "moving forward with its plans to relocate" the Bournefield residents, who have tried for years to thwart the port’s efforts to make them move.
"The Port Authority will not displace any of the existing residents and continues to maintain the occupied units (cutting grass, repairs, etc)," Friday’s release said. "Only vacant and uninhabitable units will be demolished."
Any contractor selected for the project will be developing the remainder of Parcel 68 in Lindbergh Bay, which VIPA officials said is located at the rear of the University of the Virgin Islands campus and can be accessed by driving up the hill directly across from the port’s maintenance building.
The land is owned by the Port Authority and would be leased or bought by the developer, according to officials.
The advertisement comes on the heels of the recent demolition of two of the Bournefield units, 202 and 249, which residents have said they only received notice of hours before trackhoes and other equipment showed up to tear them down. Authority officials have spoken for years about the state of the two units, have called them uninhabitable, and have explained that at least one is in the middle of a flood plain and could not be properly fixed.
Bournefield residents have opposed the authority’s position since at least 2006 and have, several times, stopped any demolition from moving forward. In 2011 the issue was even taken up by senators who threatened to pass a bill that would put a stop to VIPA’s plans to evict the tenants with just four months notice.
The most recent events in the saga, however, unfolded in February, when the VIPA board approved $20,000 for work needed to prepare unit 202 for demolition.
At the time, VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe said that a plan to eventually condemn all the units and move the residents to another site close by was in the works. He also spoke about meetings with a developer that had already done extensive work in the territory and discussed the launch of a feasibility study that would look into the benefits of developing a new site.
At the February meeting, Dowe said the deal would depend on whether the developer could receive federal tax credits for the project.
Meanwhile, the $20,000 was put to good use on July 3, when the units were officially demolished.
According to VIPA spokeswoman Monifa Marrero, permits approved by Planning and Natural Resources allowed for the two buildings to be taken down, along with the removal of five concrete slabs. Unit 202 was originally scheduled for demolition two years ago, but a lack of a proper permit held up the project.
Marrero said no other work had been done in the area since the demolition earlier this month, while Dowe has also said that VIPA has been digging into the $100,000 recently approved by the board for repairs to the other existing units.
Approximately 15 out of the 42 units in Bournefield have been approved for repairs – adding up to about $4,000 per house – and the initial scope of work included putting down sheetrock and dealing with plumbing and electrical problems.
Dowe has said the repairs – which Bournefield residents have contended that the authority has not kept up with – are necessary to make the units habitable, but he has also explained that long-range plans have always been to transition the site into something else and relocate the tenants.