April 21, 2006 – Elected officials listened Friday to complaints from about a dozen demonstrators worried about St. John's rampant development who gathered outside the Enighed Pond Marine Facility exit gate.
"Send us a planner," read the sign carried by Gary Emmons.
Others sported signs that called for mandatory public hearings for multi-unit projects.
Unless proposed projects carry Coastal Zone Management first tier designation –
or need a rezoning, a variance or a group dwelling permit – projects can go up without public input.
Knowing that Enighed Pond's grand opening would attract a number of politicians, the demonstrators took up their posts outside the gate.
Pam Gaffin said the protesters had planned to stand at the ceremony, but the V.I. Port Authority wouldn't let them. She said they had a Police Department permit for the peaceful demonstration, but where told when they arrived that they also needed a Port Authority permit.
At issue for the demonstrators is the spate of condominium projects starting to cover the island's hillsides.
Pointing to the Sirenusa condominium project going up on the hillside above the pond, Gaffin said St. John needs some check on its development. Other projects like the Grande Bay project in Cruz Bay have drawn ire from the public.
Just this week, Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean C. Plaskett announced the department would deny a building permit for a six-story condominium project at Pastory because it was too dense.
"I salute DPNR for denying the permit," Sen. Craig Barshinger said at the opening ceremony.
From across the street came the sound of the demonstrators cheering his remarks.
Radha Speer said that for her, the issue was runoff into the waters surrounding St. John. When developers clear the land for new buildings, they remove vegetation that keeps dirt from running downhill into the ocean and smothering the reefs.
"I'd like to see a moratorium on building until we figure it out," she said.
Barshinger said that St. John has to resist being used by people who view the island as a money-making machine.
"They come to our shores with no knowledge of our culture," he said.
Senate President Lorraine Berry, who later joined Gov. Charles Turnbull, Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards and others in speaking with the demonstrators, said at the ceremony that she would "look at the signs and see what they mean."
Richards, in his remarks at the ceremony, called for planned change.
As the elected officials headed back across the street for the rest of the Enighed Pond opening ceremony, the demonstrators thanked them for listening.
"Thanks for talking to us," Mary Blazine said, carrying a sign that read Welcome to St. Construction.
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