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HomeNewsArchivesBOTANY BAY VOTE WAS A REJECTION OF COMPROMISE

BOTANY BAY VOTE WAS A REJECTION OF COMPROMISE

Dec. 12, 2001 – While some senators were satisfied at the 8-7 vote giving approval to rezone 365 acres in Estate Botany Bay at Tuesday's session of the full Senate, one of St. Thomas's leading environmentalists was not.
"I'm speechless," Helen Gjessing of the League of Women Voters said. "It's shameful. I can hardly think of what to say. I do applaud those who voted against it, because I know they are under a lot of pressure."
The body approved the rezoning via a bill sponsored by Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. that was introduced Tuesday afternoon.
Gjessing, who for 20 years has chaired the LWV Committee on Planning and Environmental Quality, has followed the proposed Botany Bay project since its inception. "It's frightening," she said Wednesday morning. "I'm afraid the economic benefits are outweighing any attempt to handle environmental issues. They are using the same old incomplete studies; even the people who wrote them say they are incomplete."
Economic benefits versus environmental concerns was, indeed, the focus of the intense and sometimes rancorous Senate debate Tuesday.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting last Thursday, where more than 25 people testified, Planning and Natural Resources Department officials had recommended a zoning variance instead of a zoning change. The variance would have allowed Botany Bay Partners to move ahead with plans for a $165 million resort development on the property at the western tip of St. Thomas while binding them to plans conforming to the conditions of the variance — in this case, meaning that they would be sensitive to environmental and cultural issues.
The development plans include a hotel, condominium and time-share units, and homesites. Additional plans for a dock have reportedly been put on hold.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, an outspoken foe of the Botany Bay project, has actively opposed it from the start. Conceding Tuesday evening that the rezoning would probably pass, he chided his colleagues for "blatant, total disregard for all the comments we have heard here." Referring to earlier public hearings attended by many opponents of the project, he said he would not consider rezoning "in any form, including a variance."
Sen. Lorraine Berry said she would go along with the proposed variance. "We need to look at both sides of the aisle," she said. "We need to look at all the opinions voiced by the League of Women Voters and the Nature Conservancy."
Berry said she supports economic development. "We do have to create revenues," she said, "but not at any cost. The variance would be a good middle ground."
Supporting the rezoning, Sen. David Jones said, "I don't believe a variance would actually help. It would be challenged every step of the way and will delay the project. The cost of money fluctuates, so if you encounter several delays and are stuck in litigation, your money isn't the same." He added, "A balance can be struck preserving the cultural artifacts."
Preservationists have said the property, a former residential estate that was sold last year, is a nesting ground for turtles and includes the remains of at least two Taino settlements that could date from 700 A.D. and a sugar factory, as well as the graves of at least a hundred slaves.
Sen. Carlton Dowe, who voted for the project, said that 94 percent of the people on St. Thomas "have never been to Botany Bay," a point made repeatedly by rezoning supporters. "That land doesn't belong to the government of the V.I.," he said. "The previous owners could have signed it over to the government. We are always against development — we were against Carambola, against Frenchman's Reef, against the Virgin Grand and the Ritz-Carlton; yet we want to pay step increases."
Dowe continued, "How can we grow or develop a better quality of life? Backing the zoning would allow more than 200 people to put up homes."
Sen. Adelbert Bryan was vehemently against the rezoning. "Botany Bay is the most pristine part of St. Thomas," he said. "What agreement is there that people have access to the place? What are they promising this community? The pilgrims were thieves, and it can happen right here. If they can take half a continent from the Indians, they can do it here … You have to be very careful when developers make promises."
Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel, who opposed the rezoning at last Thursday's meeting, maintained her stance. "I may have reluctantly voted for the variance, but not the rezoning," she said. "The development is detrimental as it is proposed right now."
White's bill addresses rezoning the land only. There is no provision for a zoning variance. "It is about economic development and it is about eco-tourism," he said. "I am not going for a variance; Botany Bay needs to be rezoned."
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who as Senate vice president was sitting in the president's chair while Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd was away from the chambers, asked his colleagues, "Can't we do some conservation, some preservation?"
Shortly after that, Jn Baptiste called a five-minute recess which lasted about half an hour. He left the floor followed by several other senators, both majority and minority members. When he returned, he immediately ordered a roll call vote on the Botany Bay rezoning bill. It will now go to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull; the governor can sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

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Dec. 12, 2001 - While some senators were satisfied at the 8-7 vote giving approval to rezone 365 acres in Estate Botany Bay at Tuesday's session of the full Senate, one of St. Thomas's leading environmentalists was not.
"I'm speechless," Helen Gjessing of the League of Women Voters said. "It's shameful. I can hardly think of what to say. I do applaud those who voted against it, because I know they are under a lot of pressure."
The body approved the rezoning via a bill sponsored by Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. that was introduced Tuesday afternoon.
Gjessing, who for 20 years has chaired the LWV Committee on Planning and Environmental Quality, has followed the proposed Botany Bay project since its inception. "It's frightening," she said Wednesday morning. "I'm afraid the economic benefits are outweighing any attempt to handle environmental issues. They are using the same old incomplete studies; even the people who wrote them say they are incomplete."
Economic benefits versus environmental concerns was, indeed, the focus of the intense and sometimes rancorous Senate debate Tuesday.
At a Committee of the Whole meeting last Thursday, where more than 25 people testified, Planning and Natural Resources Department officials had recommended a zoning variance instead of a zoning change. The variance would have allowed Botany Bay Partners to move ahead with plans for a $165 million resort development on the property at the western tip of St. Thomas while binding them to plans conforming to the conditions of the variance -- in this case, meaning that they would be sensitive to environmental and cultural issues.
The development plans include a hotel, condominium and time-share units, and homesites. Additional plans for a dock have reportedly been put on hold.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, an outspoken foe of the Botany Bay project, has actively opposed it from the start. Conceding Tuesday evening that the rezoning would probably pass, he chided his colleagues for "blatant, total disregard for all the comments we have heard here." Referring to earlier public hearings attended by many opponents of the project, he said he would not consider rezoning "in any form, including a variance."
Sen. Lorraine Berry said she would go along with the proposed variance. "We need to look at both sides of the aisle," she said. "We need to look at all the opinions voiced by the League of Women Voters and the Nature Conservancy."
Berry said she supports economic development. "We do have to create revenues," she said, "but not at any cost. The variance would be a good middle ground."
Supporting the rezoning, Sen. David Jones said, "I don't believe a variance would actually help. It would be challenged every step of the way and will delay the project. The cost of money fluctuates, so if you encounter several delays and are stuck in litigation, your money isn't the same." He added, "A balance can be struck preserving the cultural artifacts."
Preservationists have said the property, a former residential estate that was sold last year, is a nesting ground for turtles and includes the remains of at least two Taino settlements that could date from 700 A.D. and a sugar factory, as well as the graves of at least a hundred slaves.
Sen. Carlton Dowe, who voted for the project, said that 94 percent of the people on St. Thomas "have never been to Botany Bay," a point made repeatedly by rezoning supporters. "That land doesn't belong to the government of the V.I.," he said. "The previous owners could have signed it over to the government. We are always against development -- we were against Carambola, against Frenchman's Reef, against the Virgin Grand and the Ritz-Carlton; yet we want to pay step increases."
Dowe continued, "How can we grow or develop a better quality of life? Backing the zoning would allow more than 200 people to put up homes."
Sen. Adelbert Bryan was vehemently against the rezoning. "Botany Bay is the most pristine part of St. Thomas," he said. "What agreement is there that people have access to the place? What are they promising this community? The pilgrims were thieves, and it can happen right here. If they can take half a continent from the Indians, they can do it here ... You have to be very careful when developers make promises."
Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel, who opposed the rezoning at last Thursday's meeting, maintained her stance. "I may have reluctantly voted for the variance, but not the rezoning," she said. "The development is detrimental as it is proposed right now."
White's bill addresses rezoning the land only. There is no provision for a zoning variance. "It is about economic development and it is about eco-tourism," he said. "I am not going for a variance; Botany Bay needs to be rezoned."
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who as Senate vice president was sitting in the president's chair while Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd was away from the chambers, asked his colleagues, "Can't we do some conservation, some preservation?"
Shortly after that, Jn Baptiste called a five-minute recess which lasted about half an hour. He left the floor followed by several other senators, both majority and minority members. When he returned, he immediately ordered a roll call vote on the Botany Bay rezoning bill. It will now go to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull; the governor can sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.