Bryan Vetoes Controversial Zoning Variance for Concrete Block Plant

Owners of a trucking company claim their proposed concrete block plant was misunderstood by people living near their Estate Orange Grove warehouse. The relatively small operation would simply press concrete into blocks, not create the cement itself, they said. (Submitted photo)

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. has vetoed a controversial zoning request for a concrete block plant on St. Croix that the Department of Planning and Natural Resources had recommended against but that the 35th Legislature OK’d anyway.

More than 900 residents signed a petition urging Bryan to follow DPNR’s recommendation and veto Bill No. 35-0023, saying they did not oppose the business, just its proposed location in Estate Orange Grove, which has a mix of commercial and residential zoning.

The Legislature approved the variance by a 10-2 vote on April 14, with two abstentions and one senator absent, despite recommendations from DPNR that the Estate Orange Grove site does not allow industrial activity.

DPNR’s report said the environmental impact of an enclosed cement block manufacturing operation was not clear but that the “area’s development has proven incompatible with not only the area’s established character but also the area topography, aesthetics, and traffic pattern.”

“It is imperative that we consider the impact that our momentary decisions may have on future generations of Virgin Islanders. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources is actively developing a comprehensive land and water use plan to safeguard our home for the future,” Bryan wrote in his transmittal letter to Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. on Thursday.

“We must give the professionals at DPNR the discretion to determine what is and is not appropriate use for the preservation of our land. They are the experts in the field tasked with the responsibility of guiding the protection of our Territory. We must allow them to complete the task we have set before them,” the governor wrote.

Winston Nugent, a representative of Just Right Trucking & Trash Removal, the company seeking the variance, had accused DPNR of not understanding the proposed plan and petition signers of spreading false information.

Just Right owner Mitch Matthew Sr. could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but he told the Source on Tuesday that the proposed plant would not create the dust and noise the petitioners worried about. Aside from a slight increase in traffic from his customers, Matthew said the area would remain much the same as it is now.

Currently, Just Right uses the nearly 2 acres as a base for its fleet of trash bins, trucks, heavy equipment, and a 5,000-gallon fuel storage tank, according to DPNR. It has a 10,000-square-foot, 24-foot-high warehouse that Matthew planned to use for the cement block manufacturing.

DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen said Nugent, who claimed DPNR was unduly influenced by residents against the zoning variance who sought to thwart Black business ownership, was “creating a false narrative” of oppression.

“Cement plant or concrete block manufacturer … still an industrial zone activity,” Nielsen told the Source. “Our analysis was based on the appropriateness of the site.”

The governor also vetoed three other bills on Thursday, including Bill No. 35-0052, a zoning change request for a parcel in Estate Carolina in Coral  Bay, St. John, from a residential designation to a business designation.

Bryan again referenced the advisement by DPNR planners as his reason for exercising his veto power and said he looks forward to approving a revised bill that incorporates DPNR’s recommendations.

The governor also vetoed Bill No. 35-0061, which directs the Office of the Inspector General to conduct an audit of the V.I. Water and Power Authority and appropriates $250,000 to fund the audit.

“Like its predecessor, this Bill would inappropriately infringe on the Inspector General’s independence to select how to best investigate the totality of government. Additionally, the measure is duplicative, as the Inspector General has completed its review of the WAPA-VITOL Fuel Contracting Process and Transactions and submitted the report to the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands and the Office of the U.S. Attorney,” Bryan wrote.

“As you know, I have requested that the Inspector General review the Legislature’s proposed inquiries and provide a timeline and cost estimate for investigating the outstanding questions.”

Also vetoed was Bill No. 35-0055, which pertains to the school curriculum in elementary and secondary schools, saying the language of the section was revised in January to ensure that V.I. and Caribbean history are integrated into the school curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Bill No. 35-0055 is both unnecessary and cumbersome. Attempting to mandate specific courses for schoolchildren would result in altering graduation requirements and increasing the number of teachers needed in an already strained school system, and it conflicts with existing policy set by the Board of Education,” Bryan wrote.

Although he approved Bill No. 35-0054, which relates to the Centennial Treasures Award, to provide for a single, lump-sum, and which also included non-germane amendments, Bryan exercised his line-item veto to strike two sections of the measure.

The governor said he struck a portion of Section 5 that states, “Ninety days after the approval of the CZM permits for the Randall ‘Doc’ James Racetrack,” because it seeks to interfere with and modify contractual rights and obligations, which is prohibited by the Contracts Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

“It perplexes me that the V.I. Legislature would seek to interfere with contractual obligations and safeguards negotiated to protect the Government’s investment,” Bryan wrote in the transmittal letter. “I look forward to that day when this project has advanced sufficiently to cause the Government to disburse the funds agreed to in this Amended Franchise Agreement.

“Although I have approved Section 6 of the Bill, the section suspending the provisions of title 32 V.I.C. ch11,  subch II, relating to Horse Racing Anti-Doping, I must remind the public that while the law is being suspended here, the Horse Racing Commission of the V.I. has made it clear that they will not sanction any races that do not conform to the Anti-Doping rules for horse racing,” Bryan also wrote.

Approved Measures

Bills that Bryan signed into law include:

  • Bill No. 35-0006, which honors and commends former Sen. George E. Goodwin, awarding him the Virgin Islands Medal of Honor and naming the cricket pitch in Estate Nazareth on St. Thomas in his honor.
  • Bill No. 35-0007, which honors and commends Boyd “Boyzie” Orlanzo Todman for his contributions to the people and the youth of the Virgin Islands.
  • Bill No. 35-0009, which enacts the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act to declare June 19 a legal holiday in the Virgin Islands.
  • Bill No. 35-0010, which honors and commends Aloy “Wenty” Nielsen, names the Christiansted Bypass in his honor and appropriates $10,000 from the General Fund for signage at the Aloy Nielsen Bypass.
  • Bill No. 35-0011, which honors and commends former Sen. Horace A. Callwood Sr. posthumously and names the north-south street immediately east of Windward Passage in his honor.
  • Bill No. 35-0026, which relates to insurers becoming members of a Federal Home Loan Bank and matters relating thereto.
  • Bill No. 35-0049, which establishes a Local Food and Farm Council in accordance with mandate five of the Virgin Islands Agricultural Plan.
  • Bill No. 35-0050, which establishes the Bureau of School Construction and Maintenance within the Virgin Islands Department of Education and changes the Education Maintenance Fund to the School Construction, Maintenance and Capital Fund and appropriates $2.5 million to that fund.
  • Bill No. 35-0063, which approves a land exchange between the Virgin Islands Port Authority and the University of the Virgin Islands in Lindbergh Bay, St. Thomas.
  • Bill No. 35-0068, which authorizes the members of the Board of Medical Examiners to serve temporarily as de facto board members of boards established under title 3 Virgin Islands Code, section 415 if a board does not have enough members to establish a quorum
  • Bill No. 35-0072, which ratifies the governor’s approval of a Major Coastal Zone Management Permit to Independent Boatyard and Marina.

Lease Agreements

Lease agreements with the Government of the Virgin Islands that Bryan approved include:

  • Bill No. 35-0017, which approves a lease agreement with St. Thomas Gas for Parcel No. 4 Sub Base to be used for the purpose of operating a trucking, transportation, delivery, and retail business of bottled propane gas.
  • Bill No. 35-0018, which approves a lease agreement with A-9 Trucking Enterprises, Inc. and Sarnelli Bros., (V.I.) Inc. d/b/a V.I. Recycling Company.
  • Bill No. 35-0019, which approves a lease agreement with Viya for a portion of a telecommunication tower and a bunker to establish wireless link connections and house in Recovery Hill, St. Croix.
  • Bill No. 35-0025, which approves a lease agreement with Ace Trucking and Trash Removal.

Zoning Changes 

Zoning requests Bryan approved include:

  • Bill No. 35-0021, which changes the zoning designation from residential to public for three plots in Estate Hermon Hill on St. Croix.
  • Bill No. 35-0022, which grants a zoning use variance for a plot in Estate Sion Hill to allow for a beauty salon.
  • Bill No. 35-0024, which grants a zoning for a parcel in Estate Anna’s Retreat in St. Croix to allow for dwellings.
  • Bill No. 35-0040, which grants a zoning variance for parcels in Estate Thomas on St. Thomas to allow an office, two one-bedroom, apartments, flex space, gym, 13 parking spaces, cistern and gray water cistern and accessory building for generator and garage space.
  • Bill No. 35-0053, which grants a zoning use variance for a parcel in Estate Contant on St. Thomas to allow for offices.

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