The Senate Environmental Planning Committee decided to uphold the CZM's allowance of a huge development on Thatch Cay. According to VI law, this Committee has final say because a deviation from the R-1 zoning law was in question and only the Senate can override local zoning. This is what occurred.
A reverse osmosis water production plant – the singular deviation discussed – is not allowed in an R-1 zone. This decision has significant meaning because it did not require a law change to allow it. The R-1 zoning for Thatch still remains in effect, only the R.O. plant was the question. The plans for Thatch also included docking facilities, waste treatment and trash removal. For 101 homes, that's a lot of removal.
The owners argued that the docking area, within an R-1 zone was "ancillary" to the project; meaning people and vehicles couldn't get onto the island without it. If the docking facility is "on" the island, it a violation of the R-1 zoning law, pure and simple. The Senate committee never took up this question, only the R.O. plant. Waste treatment and trash removal will require some pretty good planning and perhaps an on-island facility.
In an R-1 zone no commercial activities may take place with few exceptions. Community centers are allowed as are churches but these buildings cannot allow any permanent commercial or for-profit activities. Will there be a restaurant; a store; a place to purchase liquor; a bar of any kind? Will there be entertainment of any kind or a fueling facility for boats or vehicles? How about a permanent trash compacting facility? If these kinds of activities go on in an R-1 zone, then each must go through the same review process as did the R.O. plant. Each would require Senate review. The Senate committee did not take up these issues yet there is great potential for these activities to take place.
A village as large as the planned community on Thatch would have to depend entirely on moving people, boats and vehicles to St. Thomas for any entertainment, purchases or emergencies. Effectively, persons living on Thatch would be cut off from any supplies or services save the ones they bring with them because of the R-1 zoning. No clinic would be allowed or even a doctors office. How about a property management company? It seems unlikely that some sort of commercial enterprise would not be included in the plans now or in the future. If they were, it would be in violation of Virgin Islands law.
The CZM allowance required quite a few stipulations which include open spaces, strict protection of species, strict environmental plans and implementations and close monitoring by the general public. I would suggest that citizens continue the Thatch Cay watch to ensure, except for the R. O. plant, that only R-1 zoning allowances are going on. The docking facility is still in question.
It was promised, by the owners, that a complete environmental review was or would be undertaken. Did this promise include a complete and thorough federal review? Are there any federal reviews required? Lacking any Master Plan for the Virgin Islands, what criteria did the CZM use to establish that the environmental review was or would be according strict federal guidelines?
There are still too many questions pending for Thatch Cay. The owners have promised adherence to local regulations – but will they? Are local regulations strong enough to assure that the entire ecological structure of the island won't be undone? The island is, unless a zoning change is called for, an R-1 zone and the owners must build and treat it accordingly. Any deviation would be illegal. Citizens, keep an eye out for that request next.
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to firstname.lastname@example.org.