St. Thomas

St. John

St.Croix

ST. CROIX – Members of the Committee of the Whole, led by Senate President Novelle E. Francis Jr. convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Senators cannot vote on measures in the Committee of the Whole; however, action will be taken at the next scheduled Legislative Session.

Lawmakers first considered Bill No. 35-0021, application No. ZAC-22-12, an act amending the official zoning map No. SCZ-7 for the island of St. Croix to change the zoning designation of Plot Nos. 102-A Remainder, 102-B, and 102-C Estate Hermon Hill, Company Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, from R-3 (Residential-Medium Density) to P (Public). The measure was proposed by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr.

The proposed four-story building would be used be designed as a bunker, intended to secure people for emergency management, with windows starting at a height of 6 ft. Day-to-day operations would normally see ten visitors to VITEMA, eight 9-1-1 operators, and 52 VITEMA employees. Federal funding constraints limits the building’s safe room design for accommodation of up to two hundred emergency responders. This occupant surge would be experienced during training activities and disasters. These occupant surges would be primarily VITEMA employees but also include FEMA personnel and typically last 24-48 hours during storm events. There would be parking for up to two hundred vehicles. The property must undergo the Federal Consistency process due to the use of federal funding for demolition and construction. This process is similar to the CZM/Tier1 process with stringent requirements on public involvement and environmental community impact.

Jewel Polimus, Planning Technician for the Department of Planning of Natural Resources delivered testimony. The properties consist of 4.579 acres, which is currently not is use. A public hearing was held on October 17, 2022, and twenty-four attendees and five adjacent property owners expressed concerns. Following the hearing, an opposition letter and petition that had twenty-seven signatures were submitted. Main concerns included but were not limited to impact rezoning on adjacent property, possible increase in property taxes, safety concern with public property being used as shelter, noise from construction, increase with traffic and congestion, increase in crime, and danger of high radio waves from antennas and effects and surroundings residents. However, it was recommended by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources that the property be rezoned from R-3 (Residential-Medium Density) to P (Public).

Daryl Jaschen, Director of VITEMA delivered testimony. According to Director Jaschen, 4.86 acres of Hermon Hill, known as Plot 102A was deeded by the VI Housing Finance Authority for the purpose of establishing an emergency operations center (EOC) in the then existing two story building. This was successfully used by VITEMA until 2011, when it was deemed unhealthy to occupy due to mold and the EOC was subsequently moved to a rented three-story building in downtown Christiansted. As a result of Hurricane Maria’s passage in September 2017, VITEMA

and FEMA agreed that there was an opportunity to retrofit the old Hermon Hill VITEMA EOC to relocate the 911 operations from a rented building. The site would have up to ten visitors during business hours, Monday to Friday, but could be improved through key events. The site would have eight individuals 24 hours a day in capacity as 911 operators. Normal operations would be from 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday. An additional fifty-two individuals would work out of the facility.

Secondly, lawmakers considered Bill No. 35-0022, application No. ZAC-22-13, an act granting a zoning use variance for Plot No. 2-137 Estate Sion Hill, Queen Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, from the R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to allow for a beauty salon. The measure was proposed by Senators Novelle E. Francis, Jr., and Angel L. Bolques, Jr.

Leia LaPlace-Matthew, Territorial Planner of DPNR testified the site is currently an unoccupied two-story, single-family dwelling under construction. The bottom floor would be converted into a beauty salon, and the top floor would be used as residence. At a DPNR public hearing held on October 21, 2022, no opposition or concerns were expressed with the proposal. The salon would operate Tuesdays through Saturdays 8am to 5pm, with an established clientele of about 10-15 people a week that would be served by appointment only. There would only be one employee, and the property would accommodate three to four cars via off-street parking.

The proposed use would not be incompatible with the proposed uses. The B2 rezoning request was intended for shopping centers near primary business areas. The current R2 zoning allows for nonresidential uses such as daycares, schools, museums, civic and social clubhouses. DPNR has recommended that a use variance be granted to the R2 (Residential Low Density and One and Two Family) zoned Plot No. 2-137 Estate Sion Hill, Queen Quarter, St. Croix to allow a beauty salon.

Finally, lawmakers considered Bill No. 35-0023, ZAC-22-14, an act granting a zoning use variance from the B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood) zoning designation to Plot Nos. 50-1 and 50-4 Estate Orange Grove, Company Quarter, St. Croix, Virgin Islands to allow for the manufacture of concrete products. The measure was proposed by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr.

Leia LaPlace-Matthew, Territorial Planner, Department of Planning and Natural Resources delivered testimony. The site is currently being utilized by Just Right Trucking LLC for their trucking and heavy equipment operation. The proposed use would be to expand Just Right Trucking LLC’s onsite operation to include cement block manufacturing. DPNR reported that there were no other attendees other than the applicant at their public hearing held on November 2, 2022, but received five letters of support and sixteen letters of opposition after the hearing. Concerns included, but were not limited to site aesthetics, impact of cement plant on nearby housing residents and school students and faculty, negative impact of cement plants on property, roads, and traffic flow at the Golden Rock Shopping Center’s major intersection of Routes 75 and 703, environmental impact, citing deforestation of a nearby hillside, and negative impacts on real estate resale.

During the DPNR public hearing, the applicants Just Right Trucking testified on the application. Currently, the shell of a 10,000 sq. ft, 24-ft. high warehouse, intended for cement block manufacturing operations, a fleet of trash removal trucks, and heavy equipment trash bins, 5,000-gallon fuel tank for a proposed stand buy generator, and two office trailers. Raw material stockpiles

would be stored in secondary containments with coverings. Site operations would occur Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm. The company has fifteen full time employees and would increase to twenty once cement block manufacturing commences. The area has a mix of residential and business use structures, with two previous rezonings that have impacted the area. In 2008, a B-2 rezoning attempt was made and granted for the proposal of a town center, (Application No. ZAC-8-4, Act No. 7019) In 2015, a second B-2 rezoning attempt was made and granted for a proposal of a subdivision of small, business zoned lots from twelve acres of land. (Application No. ZAC-15-3, Act No. 7883).

According to Section 238a of the Zoning Code which states that: “a use which would not substantially conflict with the permitted uses in the zoning district, the Legislature…may grant a variance for that specific use of the subject property.” According to this section, the use for cement block manufacturing would be allowed under the category of “Concrete Products”, which is permitted in the industrial zoning districts- C (Commercial), I-1 (Heavy Industry), I-2 (Light Industry), and W-2 (Waterfront-Industrial). These zoning districts were not intended for residential use and were generally located away from the pedestrian areas of central business districts. The B-2 zoning district was intended for shopping facilities with less intensive use than primary business areas of the towns of Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted and Frederiksted. The Department recommended that rezoning not be granted, on the basis that the proposed cement/concrete block manufacturing plant would conflict with the area, and would not follow the intent of Section 238a.

Concerning residents’ opposition to rezoning, Senate President Francis welcomed the debate.

“I do not want us to shun away from opposition. I do not want us to shut down people from having a voice. It is necessary and makes us a stronger community.”

Senators present at today’s Committee of the Whole meeting included Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Marvin A. Blyden, Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Diane T. Capehart, Samuel Carrión, Dwayne M. Degraff, Ray Fonseca, Alma Francis Heyliger, Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Kenneth L. Gittens, Javan E. James, Sr., Marise C. James, Franklin D. Johnson, Carla J. Joseph, and Milton E. Potter.

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