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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Two of Three Zoning Changes Meet Little Opposition in Senate Session

Senators attending a Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday seemed to find consensus on two zoning matters presented by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

But a third application for a zoning change to allow two “single-family” residences on St. John to function as lodging houses ­– with 12 individual tenants each – resulted in hours of discussion.

The multifamily dwelling project built out of upgraded shipping containers drew much controversy when it was presented to the public in June 2023.

Many questions remain unanswered  even after the project was stayed following an appeal to the Board of Land Use Appeals

Senators did not vote on Wednesday on any of the zoning requests presented during the Committee of the Whole Meeting. Voting will be held in subsequent sessions.

Senators react favorably toward rezoning for new Dept. of Public Works headquarters on St. John

Map shows the location of DPW’s Susannaberg site which must be rezoned to take advantage of federal disaster recovery funding. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)
Map shows the location of DPW’s Susannaberg site which must be rezoned to take advantage of federal disaster recovery funding. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)

Senators heard testimony regarding a zoning change to allow the Dept. of Public Works to come into compliance with territorial law by updating the zoning category for its St. John headquarters at Parcel No. 6A  Est. Susannaberg.

The 2.44-acre site, currently zoned R-2 – Low Density Residential, has been used for maintenance and office space for nearly 40 years. Maintenance activities are not allowed on property with R-2 designation.

Photo shows existing condition of DPW’s hurricane-ravaged maintenance building in Est. Susannaberg. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)
Photo shows existing condition of DPW’s hurricane-ravaged maintenance building in Est. Susannaberg. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)

DPW is seeking to correct that inconsistency as well as to put all government-owned property within the P- Public zoning category.

The change is also necessary to access federal disaster funding to rebuild the former structure which was destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Conceptual drawing of new DPW headquarters on St. John. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)
Conceptual drawing of new DPW headquarters on St. John. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)

DPW Commissioner Derek Gabriel said in addition to offices and vehicle storage bays, the upgraded site will include an above ground cistern, a retention pond for run-off, a waste oil collection facility, and a new sewage treatment plant.

Once the zoning change has been implemented, officials said they will need six to eight months to secure permits and put the project out to bid, and another 24 months for construction.  They declined to give senators an estimate of the costs at this early stage in the bidding process.

Several senators stated their intentions to vote favorably for the zoning change.

Senators discuss rezoning request to allow a restaurant and smoothie bar in Estate Thomas

Dionne Carty Jackson testifies on behalf of family members seeking a zoning variance for a restaurant/ juice bar. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)
Dionne Carty Jackson testifies on behalf of family members seeking a zoning variance for a restaurant/ juice bar. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)

Dionne Carty Jackson presented her request to secure a zoning variance  for a family-owned property on Lot 3 on Second Ave. in Estate Thomas.

Jackson said that the storm-damaged structure in a largely residential neighborhood had been “grandfathered” for commercial use in the past; however, more than three years had passed since the building has been used for business, so the “grandfather” exemption has expired.

A photo shows the property in Estate Thomas that is being considered for zoning variance for a restaurant/juice bar. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)
A photo shows the property in Estate Thomas that is being considered for zoning variance for a restaurant/juice bar. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)

Jackson said her father, Joseph Carty, wanted to use the family property to operate a takeout restaurant specializing in local and Spanish cuisine as well as offer fresh-fruit smoothies.

When senators asked Jackson whether she would commit to not serving alcoholic beverages on the premises, she readily agreed.  Jackson said she hoped students from Charlotte Amalie High School would patronize the restaurant/juice bar, and the sale of alcoholic beverages would not be appropriate for her target customers.

A map shows the site of a proposed restaurant/juice bar in Estate Thomas. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)
A map shows the site of a proposed restaurant/juice bar in Estate Thomas. (Screenshot from a Senate session of the Committee of the Whole Wednesday)

Senators also questioned Jackson about parking. Jackson said the four parking spaces on the premises should be sufficient to allow customers to stop by to pick up their orders.

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory also questioned Jackson about plans for rebuilding the hurricane-ravaged second floor of the structure.  Jackson said she did not have a timeline in place, but the family did have plans to move forward on rebuilding the second floor once the restaurant was up and running.

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