V.I. hillside homeowners will be allowed to build living space underneath, regardless of zoning, and those who already built without approval will be granted amnesty if they otherwise come into compliance, if a bill sent Monday to the the Senate floor becomes law.
The measure would recognize that many homeowners are in violation of zoning and permitting now, and provide an incentive for them to come forward and come into compliance with the rest of the zoning and building codes, said Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, who sponsored the bill along with Sen. Louis Patrick Hill.
In essence, the bill would make it so "if you build up on columns, you can fill in underneath … thus creating more housing units," Dowe said. He characterized it as a practical "commonsense" action that will "benefit a lot of people."
As initially proposed, the bill would have created a blanket exemption so that any remaining usable space at the base of the structure may be enclosed and used for any purpose so long as the new construction did not extend beyond the building’s existing footprint. The originating committee approved an amendment offered by Dowe narrowing the exemption to just residential structures, and only if they meet all parking and sewer permitting requirements.
Acting on recommendations from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Monday amended the bill to establish a two-year amnesty from fines for those who built without approval, if they come to DPNR and come into compliance.
Voting to send the bill on to the full Legislature for final consideration were Dowe, Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Ronald Russell, Sammuel Sanes, Celestino White and Usie Richards. Sen. Patrick Sprauve was absent.
After adding amendments narrowing and clarifying its scope, Rules approved a bill: changing election laws so that all candidates running for public office must file a financial statement with the supervisor of elections, forbidding elections board members who run for any other office from participating in board activity, and expanding the use of the federal write-in absentee ballot.
Rules also approved and sent on bills:
— requiring all students participating in interscholastic sports to have an annual physical examination;
— transferring several parcels of government-owned land adjacent to Magens Bay Beach to the Magens Bay Authority for preservation and upkeep; and
— directing the University of the Virgin Islands to establish a program for congressional internships for college students to participate in intern programs administered by The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Scholarships and appropriating $100,000 for the fund.
The committee voted not to forward a bill to create a new semi-autonomous Revenue Estimating Conference to provide an independent mechanism for the Legislature to examine and verify the administration’s budget projections.
It also held in committee a bill to require non-emergency response personnel who use government vehicles to pay for their own gas and maintenance, and one that would have made some technical changes to the way building permits are processed in the territory.