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SPARKS LIKELY AT FRIDAY'S BOTANY BAY HEARING

Nov. 20, 2001 – The first public hearing on the Botany Bay resort and residential development project proposed for St. Thomas's West End is scheduled for Friday evening, and discussion is expected to be lively — even though the meeting is taking place in the middle of the long Thanksgiving weekend.
Botany Bay Partners has proposed a $160 million project to include a hotel, time-share units, condominiums and residential homes in what would be the first such development on the island's far western end. The hearing is on its request for a zoning change on 70 acres at Botany Bay, from R-1 (residential, low density) to R-3 (residential, medium density), which would allow for the proposed uses of the property. The group also wants a zoning change to build a dock on the waterfront.
Planning and Natural Resources Department officials will hear public input on the matter at the 6 p.m. Friday meeting at the Palms Court Harborview Hotel. The developers and representatives of environmental groups are among those expected to testify.
Eventually, DPNR will submit its recommendations on the proposed zoning change to the Legislature.
Botany Bay has been described as the last large undeveloped tract on St. Thomas. The pristine nature of the land and the healthy coral reefs lying offshore have led to concerns about the environmental impact of a major development there. Also, the property includes several archeological sites, including the remains of a pre-Columbian settlement that could date back 1,400 years. The site has been designated by DPNR as an "area of particular concern" because of its cultural resources.
Members of some watchdog groups including the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John have expressed concern about the possibility of the project being approved without the public being fully aware of what is happening.
The first zoning hearing had been scheduled for Oct. 18. It was postponed a week before that, according to Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, because Botany Bay Partners had not obtained the minor Coastal Zone Management permit needed for it to subdivide the property and put in roads. Plaskett said the company had failed to submit a rainwater runoff study and a historic preservation clearance letter with its application for the permit.
Plaskett said then that the rezoning hearing would not take place until Botany Bay Partners got its minor CZM permit. He also noted that it would need a major permit in order to start building and a special permit for the dock.
The fact that the rezoning hearing has now been scheduled for the Friday evening after Thanksgiving Day has some environmental advocates believing that DPNR officials may not want a large public turnout.
"They want the public not to notice," Craig Barshinger, an EAST board member, said. "If we try to fast-track this, we could have a disaster."
He noted that changing the zoning from R-1 to R-3 could greatly increase the value of the land, and that the developers could then sell the tracts at a large profit to other business people who have not submitted plans for the area.
Stevie Henry, EAST vice president, said he opposes the zoning change because not enough evaluation has been done on the site to assess the resources that exist there.
DPNR public information officer Annette Morales did not return telephone calls seeking information on the hearing.
Botany Bay Partners, which purchased the property last year from the heirs of the Corning kitchenware empire, has indicated a desire to construct the resort, condominiums and residential homes in a way that will have a minimal impact on the environment. It also has submitted plans to upgrade the Bordeaux wastewater treatment plant and to build a desalination facility that would provide some water to West End farmers.
Turnbull administration officials have described the proposed development as a sign of better times ahead for the Virgin Islands.
In August, testifying before the Senate Finance Committee on his belief that the territory's economy would be robust for Fiscal Year 2002, Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director, stated that "further proof of the economic revitalization in the territory can be seen in the planned construction of the Botany Bay Resort development …"
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, an opponent of the proposed development, asked Mills, "Are you counting on this investment as a benchmark?" Mills said he believed it should be included in projections of private-sector economic expansion.

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Nov. 20, 2001 - The first public hearing on the Botany Bay resort and residential development project proposed for St. Thomas's West End is scheduled for Friday evening, and discussion is expected to be lively -- even though the meeting is taking place in the middle of the long Thanksgiving weekend.
Botany Bay Partners has proposed a $160 million project to include a hotel, time-share units, condominiums and residential homes in what would be the first such development on the island's far western end. The hearing is on its request for a zoning change on 70 acres at Botany Bay, from R-1 (residential, low density) to R-3 (residential, medium density), which would allow for the proposed uses of the property. The group also wants a zoning change to build a dock on the waterfront.
Planning and Natural Resources Department officials will hear public input on the matter at the 6 p.m. Friday meeting at the Palms Court Harborview Hotel. The developers and representatives of environmental groups are among those expected to testify.
Eventually, DPNR will submit its recommendations on the proposed zoning change to the Legislature.
Botany Bay has been described as the last large undeveloped tract on St. Thomas. The pristine nature of the land and the healthy coral reefs lying offshore have led to concerns about the environmental impact of a major development there. Also, the property includes several archeological sites, including the remains of a pre-Columbian settlement that could date back 1,400 years. The site has been designated by DPNR as an "area of particular concern" because of its cultural resources.
Members of some watchdog groups including the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John have expressed concern about the possibility of the project being approved without the public being fully aware of what is happening.
The first zoning hearing had been scheduled for Oct. 18. It was postponed a week before that, according to Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, because Botany Bay Partners had not obtained the minor Coastal Zone Management permit needed for it to subdivide the property and put in roads. Plaskett said the company had failed to submit a rainwater runoff study and a historic preservation clearance letter with its application for the permit.
Plaskett said then that the rezoning hearing would not take place until Botany Bay Partners got its minor CZM permit. He also noted that it would need a major permit in order to start building and a special permit for the dock.
The fact that the rezoning hearing has now been scheduled for the Friday evening after Thanksgiving Day has some environmental advocates believing that DPNR officials may not want a large public turnout.
"They want the public not to notice," Craig Barshinger, an EAST board member, said. "If we try to fast-track this, we could have a disaster."
He noted that changing the zoning from R-1 to R-3 could greatly increase the value of the land, and that the developers could then sell the tracts at a large profit to other business people who have not submitted plans for the area.
Stevie Henry, EAST vice president, said he opposes the zoning change because not enough evaluation has been done on the site to assess the resources that exist there.
DPNR public information officer Annette Morales did not return telephone calls seeking information on the hearing.
Botany Bay Partners, which purchased the property last year from the heirs of the Corning kitchenware empire, has indicated a desire to construct the resort, condominiums and residential homes in a way that will have a minimal impact on the environment. It also has submitted plans to upgrade the Bordeaux wastewater treatment plant and to build a desalination facility that would provide some water to West End farmers.
Turnbull administration officials have described the proposed development as a sign of better times ahead for the Virgin Islands.
In August, testifying before the Senate Finance Committee on his belief that the territory's economy would be robust for Fiscal Year 2002, Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director, stated that "further proof of the economic revitalization in the territory can be seen in the planned construction of the Botany Bay Resort development ..."
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, an opponent of the proposed development, asked Mills, "Are you counting on this investment as a benchmark?" Mills said he believed it should be included in projections of private-sector economic expansion.