COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HEARS ZONING APPLICATIONS AND STATE OF EMERGENCY EXTENSION REQUEST

Published: Mar 11, 2022

ST. CROIX – Members of the Committee of the Whole, led by Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory, convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Lawmakers received testimony on rezoning map amendment applications as well as the request to extend the State of Emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Senators cannot vote on measures in the Committee of the Whole; however, action will be taken during the next scheduled Legislative Session.

The full body considered applicants for rezoning regarding remodeling a stone cottage, operating a nail salon, building a single-family residence, an assisted living facility, and a mixed-use development as it pertains to the UVI RT Park. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources Territorial Manager for the Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Planning, Leia LaPlace Matthew, and Jewel Polimus, the Planning Technician within the Division of Coastal Planning, overwhelmingly supported these rezoning plans with recommendations. 

ZAC-21-13, represented by Sheena Jackson, on behalf of her mother, Annette Jackson, seeks to renovate and remodel a stone cottage into a single-family residence. The property was last used 20 years ago, and the current zoning of the property does not allow single-family residences. Jewel Polimus, the Planning Technician of the Division of Coastal Planning for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), presented on behalf of Leia LaPlace Matthew, Territorial Planner, Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Polimus stated that current plans are for a one-story, two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom residence. There was no public opposition to the proposed rezoning. DPNR recommended that the variance be allowed. 

ZAC-21-14, represented by Lymarie Poleon, so that she may legally operate a nail salon within 40-foot trailer on her property. There was no public opposition to the proposed rezoning. Polimus noted that if the variance were to be granted, permits would have to be secured from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Building Permits and a business license would need to be secured from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs’ Board overseeing Barbers, Beauticians, and Manicurists. The final design of the salon would have to meet requirements set by DLCA and the Department of Health before it is fully operational. DPNR recommended the rezoning. 

ZAC-22-2, represented by Almando “Rocky” Liburd, on behalf of Linda Petersen. Ms. Petersen seeks to build a single-family residence, and current zoning does not allow it. The property is currently vacant. Polimus mentioned that there was no public opposition to the rezoning. DPNR recommended that the area be rezoned based on its persistent past and present use. 

ZAC-22-1, represented by Sheran George, so that she may operate an assisted living facility and an adult daycare center, not to be confused with a nursing home that would provide relief for caregivers and a quality care environment that is enjoyable for seniors. The current zoning code allows for an assisted living facility under the heading “Convalescent, Rest, Nursing, & Retirement Homes & Sanitariums.” The current zoning code does not recognize adult care as a use. No public opposition was expressed. DPNR recommended the rezoning. 

ZAV-22-3, represented by Aminah Saleem, Chief of Staff at the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Tech Park, on behalf of Peter Chapman, its Executive Director. The University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park is requesting that Plot Nos. 5-E and 5-F, VICORP Land, Estate Castle Burke, Prince Quarter, St. Croix be rezoned from A-1 (Agricultural Zone) to A-2 (Agricultural Zone) and B-3 (Business-Scattered), respectively. There is currently a small, private livestock farm on Parcel 5-E. Parcel 5-F is vacant and was last used for farming in 1972. A mixed-use development is proposed, centered around agricultural research development and managed by the Research and Tech Park. The property would consist of 66 units of moderate-income housing, 18,000 square feet of office space, a 120-room teaching hotel with a 300-person capacity conference center, farmland, and a solar array. At a public hearing, no opposition was heard. However, one letter voiced concern about the design of the project, with part of the land lying in a flood zone, as well as an act limiting VICORP land from development. DPNR acknowledged the concerns in the letter but said that the project would technologically advance the island of St. Croix, as well as the greater US Virgin Islands, addressing the need for housing, hotel rooms, and a conference center. 

Separately, the Committee also heard testimony regarding the request to extend the State of Emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Justa Encarnacion, Commissioner of the Department of Health, voiced overwhelming support for the extension, saying that mainland jurisdictions that have ended the state of emergency are struggling, even with the decline of COVID-19 cases. Senator Alma Francis Heyliger voiced concern over funding that the US Virgin Islands received because of the pandemic. VITEMA director Daryl Jaschen said that funding for the National Guard would not be affected, saying that it was funded through July 2022. 

Jaschen also quelled concerns about whether the expiration of the declaration of emergency would affect funding, stating that if a state of emergency existed nationally, emergency funding would be available. Kimberly Causey-Gomez, Commissioner of the Department of Human Services, noted that the State of Emergency declaration would affect certain waivers such as SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid. Senator Vialet said that since it was the law to renew the emergency, they would continue to do that until the rules changed, saying that they were a law-abiding body. Donna Frett-Gregory redirected her colleagues to the flawed law that says that if the Legislature does not convene, the state of emergency is automatically extended for an additional 30 days and indicated she looked forward to seeing an amendment to address the flaw on session day.  

Senators present at the committee hearing included Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Marvin A. Blyden, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alma Francis Heyliger, Kenneth L. Gittens, Javan E. James, Sr., Franklin D. Johnson, Carla J. Joseph, Steven D. Payne, Sr., Milton E. Potter, Janelle K. Sarauw, Kurt A. Vialet and Genevieve R. Whitaker. 

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