Oct. 22, 2004 The territory's Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan has been making the rounds of legislative hearings and public forums in recent weeks, with much discussion and some controversy along the way. The St. Thomas Board of Realtors plans to enter a new voice into the fray next Tuesday in the form of a Massachusetts attorney who has made a career out of land use and environmental law.
April Newland, chairwoman of the board's legislative committee, said her organization doesn't want to see the Virgin Islands make the same mistakes other communities have made. To further this end, the Realtor organization has offered up the nearly 300-page plan to the scrutiny of Robinson & Cole, a Boston law firm specializing in land and water use practice.
Brian Blaesser, a partner at Robinson & Cole, will give a presentation based on the firm's analysis of the local plan. Newland said the Boston firm's expertise in this area is second to none, and that the National Association of Realtors has permanently retained its services in matters relating to land use.
"NAR member Realtor associations anywhere can send a land and water use plan to [Robinson & Cole] and they will evaluate it for free," Newland said. Newland also pointed out the firm has already worked directly with Puerto Rico, Guam and Hawaii. "Though the Virgin Islands are totally unique," she said, "there are certain things that are just common to all areas."
The St. Thomas board has made no secret of its lack of support for the plan in its present form. At a recent town hall meeting held at the University of the Virgin Islands to discuss the issue, Jeyan Stout, board president, said, "We support a comprehensive plan, just not this one."
Newland said the Realtor's think the current plan is antiquated and doesn't make adequate use of more recent trends in successful development. On the other hand, she said Blaesser "has up to the minute planning information from all 50 states."
Asked about the northeastern firm's ability to address the culturally specific elements of the V.I. plan, Newland said she has no worries. She said the firm has had to deal with cultural issues everywhere. "Whether it's Alaska or New Mexico, they have found that certain plans will have certain effects," she said.
Sen. Louis P. Hill, the driving force behind the reintroduction of the land and water plan during the 25th Legislature, said he would be at the meeting. "What I want for the territory is a plan that works. If it needs the review of an expert if an expert is able to help us make a plan that serves the people of the Virgin Islands I will welcome that," Hill said.
Newland said the governor and lieutenant governor have been invited to Tuesday's meeting along with all of the senators and the commissioner and staff of the DPNR. So far, she said all but a few have replied they will be in attendance.
The open-forum meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the Palms Court Harborview Hotel. Anyone with questions is encouraged to contact Stout at 776-7653.
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