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Tuesday, October 27, 2020
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Building Height Discussed at Planning Meeting

Planning consultant James Duncan discusses building height.Using feet to determine how tall a building is allowed to be instead of using the numbr of stories was the main point of discussion Thursday at a Planning and Natural Resources meeting on a proposed, revamped zoning code for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We have to get away from stories. It taxes our permit department and taxes our legal department,” said Stuart Smith, Planning’s director of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning.

The proposed revamped zoning code includes some tweaks to the current district definitions. Business becomes Commercial, and Residential has some new additions. Residential buildings in zones R-1, R-2 and the new R-3A are all considered low density. R-1 calls for lots 20,000 square feet or larger in size. R-2 includes lots 10,000 square feet or larger in size. R-3A is used for lots 6,000 square feet in size. There are also provisions for the number of buildings in these districts.

R-3B is for low density, multiple residential on a lot 6,000 square feet or larger. R-3C, another new category, is moderate density, multiple residential with lots 6,000 square feet and larger. R-4 is moderate density, multiple residential on a lot 3,000 square feet or larger. R-5 is high-density multiple residential on a lot 10,000 square feet in size.

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Under the proposed revamped zoning code, height limits on R-1, R-2 and R-3A will stand at 28 feet. R-3B will have a height limit of 40 feet. R-3C will have a height limit of 76 feet. R-4’s height limit will be 40 feet, and R-5’s, 100 feet. All height limits exclude the cistern.

Using stories to define how tall a building can be leaves room for interpretation. Smith said two different architects are likely to look at the number of stories in two different ways.

At issue for some of the nearly a dozen people who attended the meeting at Nazareth Lutheran Church was the fact that on St. John, people build on very steep slopes because they have no choice. They were concerned the new definitions would make it difficult to design homes to fit the zoning code.

“Sometimes you have to build the way the land is,” resident Andrew Penn said.

Smith and the consultants hired by Planning to revamp the zoning code, Stuart Meck of the Bloustein School of Public Planning and Policy at Rutgers University and James Duncan of Duncan Associatees, all asked resident for their input so they can make the zoning code fit reality.

“We’re trying to get a common sense code for you,” Duncan said.

Meck, Dunstan and others began work on revamping the zoning code in 2008, the first effort since the current zoning code began in 1972.

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