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Senate Hears Zoning Requests

Senators at Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole were supportive for all six rezoning and use variance requests that came before them when they met at Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas.

“You are all coming to us with ideas that seem genuine,” Sen. Craig Barshinger said.

He said that in a previous era, people asked for rezonings only to “flip” them, meaning they sold the property once they got the rezoning. Since rezonings often allow a long list of uses other than the one stated by the person requesting it, it opened the door for businesses that might not be appreciated by the neighbors.

Those asking for rezonings or use variances must find a senator to sponsor a bill allowing it. It then will be listed on the Senate session agenda.

Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone said it’s likely those heard Wednesday would be scheduled for the April 8 session.

In response to a question from Malone, Stuart Smith, who heads the Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning Division at the Planning and Natural Resources Department, said that a long-awaited revamping of the territory’s zoning code should be to the Senate next month.

A request to rezone a half-acre of land in Estate Thomas for affordable senior housing drew the most questions from senators. The developer, Sugar Estate Associates, is a partnership between the V.I. Housing Authority and Michaels Organization. Michaels is a New Jersey-based organization that partners with government entities to build affordable housing.

A total of 76 one-bedroom and four two-bedroom units are planned for two multistory buildings on 5.4 acres. Two parcels, with one zoned R-1, residential low density, and one R-5, residential high density, were joined. However, after a neighbor complained about traffic and density issues at an Oct. 10, 2013, DPNR hearing, the developer decided just to ask for a rezoning on the half-acre of the R-1 parcel needed for the project. The bulk of the project will be on the parcel already zoned R-5.

Michaels Organization built Harborview Apartments on St. Croix.

This prompted Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly to note that the company’s website indicates it has given away $3.5 million in scholarships benefiting 1,600 students.

“Please tell them to extend the very same generosity to students of the Virgin Islands,” O’Reilly told project architect Theresa Roberts.

Roberts said the project will cost $20 million.

Roberts also appeared at the meeting to request a use variance for 4.7 acres in Smith Bay so her architectural firm, Springline Architects, can build a second professional building on the property.

Senators also heard a request from former Sen. Allie-Allison Petrus for a rezoning from P, Public, to I, Heavy Industry, for a small lot in Subbase to install two or three 40,000- to 60,000-gallon above-ground gasoline storage tanks.

“It will create stability in the fuel market,” Petrus said.

Petrus, who owns Petrus Gas on St. Thomas, later added that it will enable him to buy fuel when it is cheaper, thereby passing the savings along to his customers.

Roy Harrigan wants to convert existing long-term rental units at Estate Frydenhoj, along Compass Point Road, into four short-term rentals to be marketed as a guest house. He requested a use variance.

His sister, attorney Jennifer Jones, represented him.

“He will install a pool,” Jones said.

The Karl R. Percell and Carolyn P. Hermon-Percell trusts asked for a use variance on the R-2, residential one and two family, zoned .78-acre parcel in Estate Thomas off Weymouth Rhymer Road. The existing building once housed the Smile Center dental office. The trusts bought it as a location for their law firm.

“The surrounding area is mixed residential and nonresidential,” Smith said.

Winston Adams, representing Ermando Ashoka Thomas, requested a use variance for .87 acres in Estate Mafolie. The building on the property has rental apartments on the two lower floors but the third sits adjacent to a busy road. The owner wants to rent it out as office space.

“They are unable to rent the third level due to vehicle noise on the street,” Adams said.

In addition to Barshinger, O’Reilly and Malone, Sens. Judi Buckley, Donald Cole, Clifford Graham, Myron Jackson, Tregenza Roach and Jeannette Millin Young attended the meeting.

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