ST. THOMAS – Members of the 34th Legislature, led by Senate President Donna A. Frett-Gregory convened in Committee of the Whole at the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room. Policymakers received testimony on Bill No. 34-0145- An Act approving the conveyance of Parcels 5-E and 5-F of VICORP Land, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, the Virgin Islands to the University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park Corporation and for other related purposes; rezoning Remainder Parcel 5-E from A-1 (Agricultural Zone) to A-29 (Agricultural Zone); rezoning Parcel 5-F from A-1 to B-3 (Business-Scattered); and providing for other related purposes.
Invited testifiers included officials from the University of Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, Sejah Farm of the Virgin Islands, and the Virgin Islands Department of Property and Procurement. Lawmakers did not vote on the measure. However, action will be taken during the next scheduled Legislative Session.
The bill intends to authorize the rezoning to the subject property to develop a 26-acre mixed-use economic development Qualified Opportunity Zone project dedicated to agricultural research and technology, as stated on the bill. DPNR Assistant Commissioner Keith Richards noted that currently the A-1 zoning district has limited use for the UVI and Tech Park representatives. However, once amended the zoning districts will be aligned with the proposed use for the Technology Village, Agricultural Research, and the Processing Site. The sponsor of the bill, Novelle Francis, Jr. mentioned that it’s important to seize the opportunity with the RT Park Development project, an innovative approach to economic growth and jobs for the youths.
The UVI RT Park Tech Village, a $50 million project, features residential housing with 60 units, 18 acres of farming, a solar microgrid, a conference room with a 300-person capacity, a teaching hotel with 120 rooms, and 12,000 square feet of commercial space, according to Sydney Paul, RT Park Senior Manager of Business Intelligence and Marketing, and a principal member of the Tech Village project team. The project will be funded through private partnerships, the Farmer’s Grant Program, and the V.I. Disaster Recovery Project. Sharing the economic benefits, UVI RT Park Executive Director & CEO Peter Chapman added that the project will create 425 jobs; of which 300 are permanent agricultural jobs and 125 construction jobs. Furthermore, Chapman noted that revenues generated from the Tech Village will be reinvested into entrepreneurial and technical assistance programs for existing farmers and persons interested in a career in the Agricultural Industry. The Department of Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson recommended that instead of researching cassava, crops that are presently studied by UVI/CES should be the primary focus.
Despite the ongoing support of the measure by officials from UVI and various government departments, Sejah Farm of the Virgin Islands Owner Dale Brown expressed opposition to the bill. Brown stated that the farmland deemed for agricultural production that is used for a construction project is irreversible. Additionally, similar agreements in the future, can place farmers at a disadvantage especially if the farmer does not have a lease agreement.
Senator Frett-Gregory mentioned that economic development is crucial to rebuilding the Territory. “We must grasp this opportunity that has revenue-generating capabilities on St. Croix. However, we need to know that this is going to happen, and that the project will come to fruition in the next few years.”
Senators attending the meeting: Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Genevieve R. Whitaker, Kurt A. Vialet, Franklin D. Johnson, Samuel Carrión, Carla J. Joseph, Javan E. James, Marvin A. Blyden, and Alma Francis Heyliger.