80.3 F
Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesWHY WE NEED LAND AND WATER USE PLANNING

WHY WE NEED LAND AND WATER USE PLANNING

In recent months, callers to local talk shows have lamented the absence of planning in the community and the costs—financial and social—associated with this deficiency. The Virgin Islands Conservation Society (VICS), parent organization of the St. Croix Environmental Association and the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, fully supports the practice of planning and the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Planning effort that was completed over six years ago. Through this editorial and others to follow, VICS will describe why a plan is needed, how it is better than the current system, and how some of the provisions of the plan will work to better protect our fragile environment.
Supporters of the plan have indicated that it is important as a guide to future development in the Virgin Islands. Residents of various neighborhoods have indicated that adoption of the Plan is critical for ensuring that undesired changes do not take place. Critics of the Plan have indicated that a plan is important, but that this particular Plan would stop development, a price that the Virgin Islands cannot afford to pay at a time when economic stagnation has become the norm. Exposed to these opposing views, all residents of the Virgin Islands should ask the question, "Why do we need a Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan?"
The answer to this question is threefold. First, the need to properly accommodate growth is the most compelling reason for the adoption of the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan. The inadequacy of existing systems to manage growth is most conspicuous in the Territory's inability to (1) properly treat sewage, (2) provide reliable electrical supply, (3) accommodate the number of people and vehicles moving to and from the workplace everyday, (4) reliably provide potable water to the Territory's residents, and (5) manage the solid waste that is generated in the Territory.
An effective land use management system identifies what growth must take place in order to accommodate projected future needs; identifies the areas best suited to serve that growth; determines the needed infrastructural components which are necessary to accommodate that growth; and ensures that the infrastructural components are in place either before development occurs or at the same time that new development is being brought online. Unplanned growth has resulted in sprawl development, making it more expensive for government agencies to provide services to residents and businesses. According to an article in the March 3 edition of the New York Times, "The pattern of random, unplanned growth commonly known as `sprawl' is a pervasive feature of the American landscape. While it has become the most common form of development surrounding cities and suburbs, hardly anyone would describe it as ideal. In fact, according to a recent Pew Center poll, sprawl has surpassed education and jobs as Americans' greatest local concern."
A costly example of the absence of a plan is the Fort Mylner intersection, which had to be reconstructed to the tune of several million dollars because extensive development was permitted without consideration of the traffic impacts that would be created. While the new intersection has improved traffic flow in the area, the costly effort of acquiring land in order to construct a functional intersection would have been avoided if a proper land use management system had been in place at the time that the area shopping centers were considered. In fact, further development of the immediate area has begun, with the construction of a membership warehouse shopping facility, setting the stage for future traffic congestion.
Secondly, the Plan is needed because Virgin Islands law mandates it. The most recent effort has its origins in the Legislature's 1970 mandate (adopted by Act 2774) which created the Virgin Islands Planning Office and required it to prepare a comprehensive plan which would "provide long-range guidance for the physical, economic and social development of the United States Virgin Islands". This mandate was reiterated in 1987 when the Government Reorganization and Consolidation Act created the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Finally, the profusion of requests for rezoning in recent years is testimony to the inadequacy of the current allocation of land use rights under the present zoning law. This situation was highlighted in a 1995 report issued by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. The report indicated that during the period 1980 to 1994, the Department received applications to rezone over 1,050 acres of land in the St. Thomas-St. John district (a rate of over 75 acres per year). This trend continues today, and strongly suggests that the current method of allocating land uses is not meeting the needs of residents.
In the field of planning, zoning is an implementing tool of a land-use plan. Typically, a plan is approved (establishing overall land-use policy for an area), and zoning is established as the vehicle to implement the land-use policies adopted by the plan. The plan is expected to serve as the community's land use policy for a specific period of time, and periodic updates are usually required. In the case of the Virgin Islands, the zoning scheme was adopted without the benefit of a plan, and has never been updated. With zoning that does not easily accommodate needed growth, property owners will continue to petition the Legislature for incremental changes to the inflexible provisions of the Virgin Islands Zoning Law, which limit the use of their properties.
The current system reacts to individual decisions to develop; attempting to satisfy the infrastructural demands of a development after the existing capacity has already been exceeded. Adoption and implementation of a Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan places a community in a proactive rather than a reactive mode.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,756FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more
In recent months, callers to local talk shows have lamented the absence of planning in the community and the costs—financial and social—associated with this deficiency. The Virgin Islands Conservation Society (VICS), parent organization of the St. Croix Environmental Association and the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, fully supports the practice of planning and the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Planning effort that was completed over six years ago. Through this editorial and others to follow, VICS will describe why a plan is needed, how it is better than the current system, and how some of the provisions of the plan will work to better protect our fragile environment.
Supporters of the plan have indicated that it is important as a guide to future development in the Virgin Islands. Residents of various neighborhoods have indicated that adoption of the Plan is critical for ensuring that undesired changes do not take place. Critics of the Plan have indicated that a plan is important, but that this particular Plan would stop development, a price that the Virgin Islands cannot afford to pay at a time when economic stagnation has become the norm. Exposed to these opposing views, all residents of the Virgin Islands should ask the question, "Why do we need a Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan?"
The answer to this question is threefold. First, the need to properly accommodate growth is the most compelling reason for the adoption of the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan. The inadequacy of existing systems to manage growth is most conspicuous in the Territory's inability to (1) properly treat sewage, (2) provide reliable electrical supply, (3) accommodate the number of people and vehicles moving to and from the workplace everyday, (4) reliably provide potable water to the Territory's residents, and (5) manage the solid waste that is generated in the Territory.
An effective land use management system identifies what growth must take place in order to accommodate projected future needs; identifies the areas best suited to serve that growth; determines the needed infrastructural components which are necessary to accommodate that growth; and ensures that the infrastructural components are in place either before development occurs or at the same time that new development is being brought online. Unplanned growth has resulted in sprawl development, making it more expensive for government agencies to provide services to residents and businesses. According to an article in the March 3 edition of the New York Times, "The pattern of random, unplanned growth commonly known as `sprawl' is a pervasive feature of the American landscape. While it has become the most common form of development surrounding cities and suburbs, hardly anyone would describe it as ideal. In fact, according to a recent Pew Center poll, sprawl has surpassed education and jobs as Americans' greatest local concern."
A costly example of the absence of a plan is the Fort Mylner intersection, which had to be reconstructed to the tune of several million dollars because extensive development was permitted without consideration of the traffic impacts that would be created. While the new intersection has improved traffic flow in the area, the costly effort of acquiring land in order to construct a functional intersection would have been avoided if a proper land use management system had been in place at the time that the area shopping centers were considered. In fact, further development of the immediate area has begun, with the construction of a membership warehouse shopping facility, setting the stage for future traffic congestion.
Secondly, the Plan is needed because Virgin Islands law mandates it. The most recent effort has its origins in the Legislature's 1970 mandate (adopted by Act 2774) which created the Virgin Islands Planning Office and required it to prepare a comprehensive plan which would "provide long-range guidance for the physical, economic and social development of the United States Virgin Islands". This mandate was reiterated in 1987 when the Government Reorganization and Consolidation Act created the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Finally, the profusion of requests for rezoning in recent years is testimony to the inadequacy of the current allocation of land use rights under the present zoning law. This situation was highlighted in a 1995 report issued by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. The report indicated that during the period 1980 to 1994, the Department received applications to rezone over 1,050 acres of land in the St. Thomas-St. John district (a rate of over 75 acres per year). This trend continues today, and strongly suggests that the current method of allocating land uses is not meeting the needs of residents.
In the field of planning, zoning is an implementing tool of a land-use plan. Typically, a plan is approved (establishing overall land-use policy for an area), and zoning is established as the vehicle to implement the land-use policies adopted by the plan. The plan is expected to serve as the community's land use policy for a specific period of time, and periodic updates are usually required. In the case of the Virgin Islands, the zoning scheme was adopted without the benefit of a plan, and has never been updated. With zoning that does not easily accommodate needed growth, property owners will continue to petition the Legislature for incremental changes to the inflexible provisions of the Virgin Islands Zoning Law, which limit the use of their properties.
The current system reacts to individual decisions to develop; attempting to satisfy the infrastructural demands of a development after the existing capacity has already been exceeded. Adoption and implementation of a Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan places a community in a proactive rather than a reactive mode.