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HomeNewsArchivesPOLITICIANS WEIGH IN ON WAREHOUSE PROTEST

POLITICIANS WEIGH IN ON WAREHOUSE PROTEST

Sept. 21, 2001 – More than 25 concerned Smith Bay residents met this week with legislative representatives and community action advocates to plan a campaign to stop the construction of a Merchant's Market warehouse in their residential neighborhood.
Special zoning for the project was approved a year ago, permits to begin work were issued last February, and a Merchant's Market executive says the company has more than a million dollars invested in the project at this point.
Most of the residents attending the neighborhood meeting Wednesday evening blamed government officials for failing to protect their area from the hustle and bustle, trucking noise and rats they fear the facility will bring.
Retired contractor and Smith Bay resident Horace M. Lewis, whose own property abuts the disputed parcel, called and led the meeting. He related his efforts to call attention to the zoning variance that allows the commercial development. He said the variance, approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor as Act No. 6360, was an amendment "hidden in a St. Croix bill."
Contacted Friday, Merchant's Market general manager Luis Elias said that he has never heard from Lewis directly but was aware of his efforts now to block construction of the warehouse.
Elias said Merchant's Market purchased the Smith Bay land from the Vernon Ball Trust in December 2000 — after the zoning variance was in effect. The bill specifies approval for the property to be used "for the purpose of constructing and operating a wholesale trade, storage and warehouse" facility. Without the zoning variance in place, Elias said, "we would have had no interest in purchasing the property."
Clearing of the land began last February, he said. He estimated "we are over a million dollars into this project" for the land acquisition, clearing and construction materials.
Lewis and other residents said Wednesday night that they were never notified of a hearing on the zoning variance. Lewis blamed Sen. Roosevelt David and the Departments of Planning and Natural Resources and Public Works for the situation. He said he not only wants the variance rescinded but also wants the construction site restored to its previous condition.
Lewis said he has retained former attorney general Rosalie Ballentine to represent him legally and has "paid attorney's fees totaling $3,000." He asked his neighbors to contribute their time and money to "fight this injustice."
Homeowner Leonard Wilkinson, who said his property is "in the immediate area" of the disputed tract, compared the planned warehouse to a Cost-U-Less or a PriceSmart, saying that, like them, it should be built "off by itself" instead of "right in my front yard." He claimed that he was "not notified" of the proposed zoning change as is required by law.
Elias said the comparison with the mega-retailers is flat-out wrong. "Merchant's Market is in the wholesale food-distribution business," he said. "We don't package or process the food we sell, and we are all done for the day by 6 p.m." The warehouse will be totally enclosed and will be kept rodent free and routinely inspected as required by law, he said.
Merchant's Market now operates facilities in Bournefield on St. Thomas, at the eastern edge of the University of the Virgin Islands campus, and in Estate Diamond on St. Croix. Elias said the firm has been a good corporate citizen since 1966, currently paying 88 employees territorywide more than $2 million annually, and that he felt they "would be good neighbors in Smith Bay."
The zoning variance was introduced into the 23rd Legislature as Bill No. 23-0259 and was approved by a vote of 11-1. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed it into law on Oct. 6, 2000. Planning and Natural Resources granted a land-clearing permit last February and a driveway and earth-change permit last March.
According to Elias, the earth changes were "99 percent done" when DPNR stopped construction this the summer "due to a technicality involving the turning radius onto the public road from our access onto the property."
Glenn "Kwabena" Davis, representing Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel, said she would submit a bill in Monday's legislative session to repeal the zoning variance. Davis and Nicholas Friday, representing Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, encouraged concerned residents to appear at Monday's Senate session. "Senators respect numbers," Friday said.
Cordell Jacobs, representing Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, apologized to the group for Donastorg's support of the variance at the time it was approved. Jacobs said Donastorg had thought that the Smith Bay residents "wanted this variance" when he cast his vote for it.
Erva Denham, citing her teaching credentials and, she said, "speaking as a private citizen" and not representing the League of Women Voters, of which she is president, led those present step by step through the process of creating a sustainable, effective community advocacy group.

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Sept. 21, 2001 - More than 25 concerned Smith Bay residents met this week with legislative representatives and community action advocates to plan a campaign to stop the construction of a Merchant's Market warehouse in their residential neighborhood.
Special zoning for the project was approved a year ago, permits to begin work were issued last February, and a Merchant's Market executive says the company has more than a million dollars invested in the project at this point.
Most of the residents attending the neighborhood meeting Wednesday evening blamed government officials for failing to protect their area from the hustle and bustle, trucking noise and rats they fear the facility will bring.
Retired contractor and Smith Bay resident Horace M. Lewis, whose own property abuts the disputed parcel, called and led the meeting. He related his efforts to call attention to the zoning variance that allows the commercial development. He said the variance, approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor as Act No. 6360, was an amendment "hidden in a St. Croix bill."
Contacted Friday, Merchant's Market general manager Luis Elias said that he has never heard from Lewis directly but was aware of his efforts now to block construction of the warehouse.
Elias said Merchant's Market purchased the Smith Bay land from the Vernon Ball Trust in December 2000 -- after the zoning variance was in effect. The bill specifies approval for the property to be used "for the purpose of constructing and operating a wholesale trade, storage and warehouse" facility. Without the zoning variance in place, Elias said, "we would have had no interest in purchasing the property."
Clearing of the land began last February, he said. He estimated "we are over a million dollars into this project" for the land acquisition, clearing and construction materials.
Lewis and other residents said Wednesday night that they were never notified of a hearing on the zoning variance. Lewis blamed Sen. Roosevelt David and the Departments of Planning and Natural Resources and Public Works for the situation. He said he not only wants the variance rescinded but also wants the construction site restored to its previous condition.
Lewis said he has retained former attorney general Rosalie Ballentine to represent him legally and has "paid attorney's fees totaling $3,000." He asked his neighbors to contribute their time and money to "fight this injustice."
Homeowner Leonard Wilkinson, who said his property is "in the immediate area" of the disputed tract, compared the planned warehouse to a Cost-U-Less or a PriceSmart, saying that, like them, it should be built "off by itself" instead of "right in my front yard." He claimed that he was "not notified" of the proposed zoning change as is required by law.
Elias said the comparison with the mega-retailers is flat-out wrong. "Merchant's Market is in the wholesale food-distribution business," he said. "We don't package or process the food we sell, and we are all done for the day by 6 p.m." The warehouse will be totally enclosed and will be kept rodent free and routinely inspected as required by law, he said.
Merchant's Market now operates facilities in Bournefield on St. Thomas, at the eastern edge of the University of the Virgin Islands campus, and in Estate Diamond on St. Croix. Elias said the firm has been a good corporate citizen since 1966, currently paying 88 employees territorywide more than $2 million annually, and that he felt they "would be good neighbors in Smith Bay."
The zoning variance was introduced into the 23rd Legislature as Bill No. 23-0259 and was approved by a vote of 11-1. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed it into law on Oct. 6, 2000. Planning and Natural Resources granted a land-clearing permit last February and a driveway and earth-change permit last March.
According to Elias, the earth changes were "99 percent done" when DPNR stopped construction this the summer "due to a technicality involving the turning radius onto the public road from our access onto the property."
Glenn "Kwabena" Davis, representing Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel, said she would submit a bill in Monday's legislative session to repeal the zoning variance. Davis and Nicholas Friday, representing Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, encouraged concerned residents to appear at Monday's Senate session. "Senators respect numbers," Friday said.
Cordell Jacobs, representing Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, apologized to the group for Donastorg's support of the variance at the time it was approved. Jacobs said Donastorg had thought that the Smith Bay residents "wanted this variance" when he cast his vote for it.
Erva Denham, citing her teaching credentials and, she said, "speaking as a private citizen" and not representing the League of Women Voters, of which she is president, led those present step by step through the process of creating a sustainable, effective community advocacy group.