April 19, 2006 – After a furor began growing over plans to construct a 63-unit condominium project at Pastory on St. John, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean C. Plaskett said Wednesday that his department will deny Reef Management Co. a building permit.
Initially, word went around St. John that the project would be nine stories high, but Plaskett said the project had been reduced to six stories.
Plaskett said there were numerous significant discrepancies and calculation mistakes in the submitted plans, but the main issue was that the project was too dense for the area.
"We wanted it to be much lower than six stories," Plaskett said.
The commissioner also said he gave credence to public sentiment against the project.
He said that because the developer had not consolidated two parcels owned by two different companies — as requested — that was also grounds to deny the building permit.
"There's an issue with the title as to who actually owns it," Plaskett said.
Planning spokesman Jamal Nielsen said that the owner on one lot is listed as Commonwealth Corp. and the other is listed as Caribbean Island Adventures. Efforts to learn who owns those companies were unsuccessful.
Doug White, a St. Thomas architect and Island Green Building Association (IGBA) board member, said he was delighted at the news the permit would be denied. "Fantastic," he said.
The organization was in the midst of mounting a campaign against the project.
Plaskett noted that Reef Management could refile its application.
Nielsen said the area, located where Pastory Gardens miniature golf course now sits, is zoned B-2, business secondary-neighborhood.
"There is no restriction on height and no setback requirements in B-2," Nielsen said.
Since the area is not in the Coastal Zone Management area known as the first tier, no public hearing is required for project review.
Mary Pat Brown, who lives very close to the proposed project area, said it would be a shame to replace what has turned out to be an attractive and well-planted miniature golf course with a condominium project.
"I think it's horrible," she said.
She bemoaned the fact that her neighborhood's peace and quiet seems to be gone forever. She said that a maintenance company recently set up shop on the lot next door. She said she now listens to the sound of diesel engines throughout the day.
"The whole situation seems to be out of control all over the place," she said.
Another neighbor, Maurice Smith, said the project does not fit in with the neighborhood. He also raised concerns about the impact a project of this scope would have on the adjacent Innovative Telephone facility.
"And it's on the side of a gut," he pointed out.
Reef Management attorney William McConnell said he had to consult with his clients first before releasing information about the project. He did not return calls Wednesday.
White said the IGBA is concerned about large projects now going up on St. John, ones which don't receive any public review because they're not in CZM's first tier.
He said the organization now has a petition circulating calling for all of St. John to be included in the first tier.
White said another petition calls for a limit of three stories on all St. John buildings.
"That includes the loft and the basement," he said.
He said that developers bypass height requirements by putting in basements and lofts that they don't consider to be part of the main building.
White said he is also concerned about what would happen if an earthquake toppled a tall building like the ones proposed at Pastory.
"It would block the road," he said, referring to one of the island's main arteries, Centerline Road.
He said that projects such as the proposed Pastory condominiums violate the territory's environmental protection law.
"It supersedes the zoning laws," he said, referring to the environmental protection law.
The IGBA plans to take its message to the politicians attending Friday's grand opening of Enighed Pond commercial port. White said a peaceful demonstration is planned.
He also said the group will set up shop at the Earth Day event Friday in the ball field adjacent to the V.I. National Park Visitors Center.
And he said the group will hold a "Save St. John" rally in May. The date has not been set.
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