May 10, 2007 — When many St. John residents spoke out loudly in opposition to the Sirenusa condominium project, Gov. John deJongh Jr. listened. Late Thursday he vetoed the controversial Sirenusa variance legislation approved by the Legislature on April 17.
"I'm very pleased," Sirenusa neighbor Don Porter said.
Sunnilal Ramnarine, who has put up with rocks, mud and water flowing into his yard from the Sirenusa construction, was equally elated. "I'm so glad to hear that," he said.
Pat Harley, who's suffered with endless noise from the project every day except Sundays, said she was pleased that the project wouldn't be allowed to get any taller.
"Fantastic," community activist Sharon Coldren said when she heard the news.
And former St. John Administrator Julien Harley said he was pleased that deJongh did exactly what the voters wanted him to do.
Porter said 1,000 people signed a petition against the variance. He said it was delivered Thursday to St. John Administrator Leona Smith.
And in the weeks since the Legislature passed the variance bill, residents opposed to the project flooded Government House with e-mails, faxes and phone calls to let deJongh know they wanted a veto.
"He listened to St. John," Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said.
However, Ramnarine said he worried that the developer, Enighed Condominiums LLC, would convince senators to override the governor's veto.
And so was the St. John Coalition, which also called for deJongh's veto of the variance. Within one and a half hours of deJongh's press release announcing the veto, the ad hoc organization sent out an e-mail urging people to pressure the senators not to override the governor's veto. It takes 10 votes for an override.
Sen. Celestino White, who special-ordered the bill to the agenda in the waning minutes of the April 17 session and voted for its approval, could not be reached for comment.
Sen. Carmen Wesselhoft, a St. John resident who serves as senator at large, also voted for the variance. She did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Thirteen out of 14 senators on the floor voted yes for the bill. Only Sen. Louis P. Hill voted no, with Sen. James Weber off the floor.
The variance changes the zoning from R-2 (residential, low density) to R-3 (residential medium density) and gives the developer, Enighed Condominiums LLC, the right to add seven more units to the 40 already permitted, as well as increase the height to four stories.
Sirenusa attorney Arturo Watlington has said those seven units will be added to three buildings. Two of those buildings will have four stories, with the third having three.
Enighed Condominiums developer Carlo Marzano, who has said he needs the extra units to make the project financially viable, did not return a phone call requesting comment.
DeJongh vetoed the bill just one day before the deadline for him to take action. The press release announcing his decision was e-mailed just minutes before 7 p.m.
Greaux said the governor had issues with the way the bill "was presented to the Legislature." Since the bill was not on the agenda, those opposed to the project had no way to know the Legislature was taking action.
Additionally, the Planning and Natural Resources staff opposed the variance and the Legislature's legal counsel, Yvonne Tharpes, questioned the legal sufficiency of the bill.
DeJongh, in the press release announcing the veto, said that adherence to planning principles is necessary to successfully achieve our goal of maintaining balance between development and other interests in the community. This concern is heightened on St. John, where the majority of the land has been dedicated to the National Park Service.
The governor said that while the proposal may have had some beneficial economic impacts, the Virgin Islands Zoning Code requirements were dispensed with, thus depriving parties of due process and demonstrating a disregard of existing law which my administration cannot condone.
DeJongh further pointed out that specifically and without limitation, the suggested zoning variance contained in the bill is not authorized by any zoning laws of the Virgin Islands. In addition, the governor said, because the Virgin Islands has a finite amount of real property available for construction, especially on the island of St. John, the strictures of the Zoning Code must be observed to effectuate the policies set for therein.
The project has been controversial almost since its inception. In 2006, the developer started work on third stories not included in its group dwelling permit, but was stopped by Planning. At that time, the developer claimed that it had approval for the third story, but then Planning Commissioner Dean Plaskett said at the time that Planning never received a request for a modification.
Porter said that despite allegations by some people that those opposed to the variance wanted to halt the entire project, he said no one wants work at the Sirenusa project to stop.
"We want to get it over with," he said.
Coldren said she hopes that the developer will be a good neighbor.
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