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Sirenusa Developers Ask Senate for Changes Amid Public Opposition

March 26, 2007 — Residents continued to voice their opposition Monday to the Sirenusa condominiums project on St. John, whose developers are asking the Senate to approve a change that would allow for the addition of seven units to the site in Cruz Bay.
Speaking at the St. John Legislature building Monday evening, at least 15 community members said construction on the project has stirred up clouds of dust, increased flooding in the area and sent boulders and other debris onto nearby properties.
Residents also said that developers were trying to skirt regulations set up by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), which granted Enighed Condominiums LLC a group-dwelling permit in 2004 for the construction of 28 two-story buildings consisting of 40 residential units.
The construction of seven more units — which would add an additional story to three of the buildings on the site — violates the permit, and will put a heavy strain on the surrounding infrastructure, including the island's roads and sewage system, residents argued.
But developer Carlos Marzano said that there is a good chance the project would have to shut down if senators voted to disapprove the request, which calls for senators to grant a use-variance to the current R-2 (residential-low density) zoning. "We're not asking for anything else, just the seven units," he said.
Halting the project would result in a significant loss of jobs, government revenue and a $35 million economic-development opportunity, Marzano said.
Representatives from the DPNR told senators they could not presently recommend the use variance, since there are some discrepancies in the company's request along with various other unresolved issues.
According to Marjorie Hendrickson Emanuel, head of DPNR's comprehensive and coastal zone planning division, it is not clear whether Enighed Condominiums is actually requesting a use variance or asking for the entire development to be rezoned to R-3 (residential-medium density). "We have asked the company to clarify their request, but they haven't gotten back to us yet," she added.
Representing Enighed Condominiums, attorney Arturo Watlington Jr. said there was no need for clarification. "A variance would address the need for increased density," he said. "So I don't know why the statement has been made about getting clarification."
In his opening statement to senators, however, Watlington explained that the request for a use variance — which would allow the site to be used for purposes other than those specified by the current R-2 designation — calls for a portion of the property to be rezoned to R-3.
DPNR representatives argued that the request nullifies the development's original group-dwelling permit, which was issued based on the current R-2 zoning.
While Sirenusa architect William Karr said the permit had been amended by former DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett to allow for the construction of seven more units, residents said the request was an attempt by the developer to "sneak in a much bigger building" than what was initially permitted.
"What's being demonstrated here is a blatant disregard for the people of St. John," said local resident Robert Lee. "They had a permit in place, but they ignored it and decided to go their own way. But they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar."
Lee noted that DPNR issued a cease-and-desist order for a portion of the project after staff members found that developers were putting up three-story buildings with a mezzanine instead of the permitted two-story buildings. (See "Residents Unite Against Sirenusa Condo Project.")
The project has not exceeded the requirements laid out in the permit, Karr insisted. "The prints we have now are identical to the plans that have already been permitted," he said. "And by adding the additional units, the height of the buildings stays the same — 49 feet, 10 inches, as permitted. And we won't be impeding on any elevations or views."
Residents disagreed, saying that Enighed Condominiums had submitted two different sets of plans during the permitting process. "They have aggressively pushed every conceivable limit at every conceivable turn," said attorney Brion Morrisette, who attended Monday's Committee of the Whole hearing on behalf of a resident currently suing the company. "But none of us are fooled by this poppyshow."
Morrisette urged senators not to be "tricked by the smokescreen" he said the developers were creating. "I know there's an issue as to whether this is a zoning or a use-variance request," he said. "All I have to say to that is, 'It's either a duck or it's not.'"
Senators said they would take residents' concerns into consideration in the future. Before the request can be approved, it has to be sponsored by a senator, drafted into bill form and considered by the full Senate body.
Present during Monday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Basil Ottley Jr., Usie R. Richards, James Weber III, Carmen M. Wesselhoft and Celestino A. White Sr.
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March 26, 2007 -- Residents continued to voice their opposition Monday to the Sirenusa condominiums project on St. John, whose developers are asking the Senate to approve a change that would allow for the addition of seven units to the site in Cruz Bay.
Speaking at the St. John Legislature building Monday evening, at least 15 community members said construction on the project has stirred up clouds of dust, increased flooding in the area and sent boulders and other debris onto nearby properties.
Residents also said that developers were trying to skirt regulations set up by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), which granted Enighed Condominiums LLC a group-dwelling permit in 2004 for the construction of 28 two-story buildings consisting of 40 residential units.
The construction of seven more units -- which would add an additional story to three of the buildings on the site -- violates the permit, and will put a heavy strain on the surrounding infrastructure, including the island's roads and sewage system, residents argued.
But developer Carlos Marzano said that there is a good chance the project would have to shut down if senators voted to disapprove the request, which calls for senators to grant a use-variance to the current R-2 (residential-low density) zoning. "We're not asking for anything else, just the seven units," he said.
Halting the project would result in a significant loss of jobs, government revenue and a $35 million economic-development opportunity, Marzano said.
Representatives from the DPNR told senators they could not presently recommend the use variance, since there are some discrepancies in the company's request along with various other unresolved issues.
According to Marjorie Hendrickson Emanuel, head of DPNR's comprehensive and coastal zone planning division, it is not clear whether Enighed Condominiums is actually requesting a use variance or asking for the entire development to be rezoned to R-3 (residential-medium density). "We have asked the company to clarify their request, but they haven't gotten back to us yet," she added.
Representing Enighed Condominiums, attorney Arturo Watlington Jr. said there was no need for clarification. "A variance would address the need for increased density," he said. "So I don't know why the statement has been made about getting clarification."
In his opening statement to senators, however, Watlington explained that the request for a use variance -- which would allow the site to be used for purposes other than those specified by the current R-2 designation -- calls for a portion of the property to be rezoned to R-3.
DPNR representatives argued that the request nullifies the development's original group-dwelling permit, which was issued based on the current R-2 zoning.
While Sirenusa architect William Karr said the permit had been amended by former DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett to allow for the construction of seven more units, residents said the request was an attempt by the developer to "sneak in a much bigger building" than what was initially permitted.
"What's being demonstrated here is a blatant disregard for the people of St. John," said local resident Robert Lee. "They had a permit in place, but they ignored it and decided to go their own way. But they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar."
Lee noted that DPNR issued a cease-and-desist order for a portion of the project after staff members found that developers were putting up three-story buildings with a mezzanine instead of the permitted two-story buildings. (See "Residents Unite Against Sirenusa Condo Project.")
The project has not exceeded the requirements laid out in the permit, Karr insisted. "The prints we have now are identical to the plans that have already been permitted," he said. "And by adding the additional units, the height of the buildings stays the same -- 49 feet, 10 inches, as permitted. And we won't be impeding on any elevations or views."
Residents disagreed, saying that Enighed Condominiums had submitted two different sets of plans during the permitting process. "They have aggressively pushed every conceivable limit at every conceivable turn," said attorney Brion Morrisette, who attended Monday's Committee of the Whole hearing on behalf of a resident currently suing the company. "But none of us are fooled by this poppyshow."
Morrisette urged senators not to be "tricked by the smokescreen" he said the developers were creating. "I know there's an issue as to whether this is a zoning or a use-variance request," he said. "All I have to say to that is, 'It's either a duck or it's not.'"
Senators said they would take residents' concerns into consideration in the future. Before the request can be approved, it has to be sponsored by a senator, drafted into bill form and considered by the full Senate body.
Present during Monday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Basil Ottley Jr., Usie R. Richards, James Weber III, Carmen M. Wesselhoft and Celestino A. White Sr.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.