Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced at his weekly briefing Wednesday he will be asking residents to help form a plan to deal with the territory’s derelict and abandoned buildings, with town hall meetings planned on all three islands.
According to the governor, the number of degraded properties has increased in recent years because of the 2017 hurricanes, and they impede economic growth. Some of the buildings are unsafe and health hazards as well, he added.
Bryan said all government agencies and some stakeholders have been made aware of the initial planning. So far, the plan includes the use of a conservator — an individual or organization — to represent the owners and manage rehabilitating the properties. The goal of the plan is to preserve and revitalize towns and, later, outlying areas, the governor said.
“Although the conservator is taking control of the property, the title and the legal ownership of the property would remain with the family, individual, organization, whatever it was before. The owner would retain the legal right to that property,” Bryan said.
Speaking to owners of vacant and blighted properties is the first step in the outline the governor gave about his plan. Then a court would determine if the property was indeed abandoned and/or derelict. (What constitutes a derelict property is one of the questions yet to be answered.) The conservator would be appointed for 10 to 20 years and would handle architectural planning, permits for renovation, and, depending on the renovation, renting or selling the restored structure. The entire process would be overseen by a judge.
Sidewalks, lighting, parking and internet access are included in the governor’s plan, he said, as a part of the anti-crime initiative. At some point, there will be grants for people who want to renovate their properties themselves, he said.
Richard Motta, the governor’s communications director, told the Source later the town halls will be announced soon and should take place in July.
Other things for residents to consider are possible zoning changes, historic preservation input and what percentages of the proceeds should be allowed for the owner, the conservator and the government if the property is sold.
Jean-Pierre Oriol, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, also talked about town hall meetings that the department is planning for July 18, 19, and 20 on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, respectively.
The meetings, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., are to continue the dialogue on the territory’s comprehensive land and water use plan, which is under development. The meeting locations are: Charlotte Amalie High School auditorium on St. Thomas, the Julius E. Sprauve School cafeteria on St. John, and the Great Hall at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix campus.
During the town halls, the project consultants will give a formal presentation and talk about the proposed policies. Suggestions and comments can be registered at www.planusvi.com between July 18 and Aug. 6 and a project worksheet will be available at the meetings. Videos and summaries of previous meetings are available on the website.
“We had an overwhelming response during our first town hall meetings in March. We encourage the community to come out and continue to support this initiative. I would like to especially ask those between the ages of 18 and 30 to participate in this endeavor. We are shaping the future of your Virgin Islands and it is important that your voice be heard,” Oriol said.
The commissioner also asked the boating community, especially on the East End, to be mindful that this is turtle mating season and already five turtles have been struck by boats.
On another topic, the governor said they are looking for childcare providers active in 2020 to apply for part of the $21 million grant funding through the V.I. Human Services Department. The government is aware of only 66 organizations, so everyone eligible should apply.
At the beginning of the briefing, the governor expressed “anger and profound sadness” over the killing of V.I. Police Detective Delbert Phipps on Tuesday on St.Thomas.
“The entire Virgin Islands community grieves their loss,” Bryan said.