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Monday, February 6, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesVilla Botanica Zoning Variance Meets Opposition

Villa Botanica Zoning Variance Meets Opposition

Villa Botanica in Estate Crown and Hawk’s request for a zoning variance to open a gift shop and serve food at weddings and other functions appeared much in doubt after neighbors signed petitions and vigorously opposed it before the Legislature Tuesday.

Klaus and Jackie Neuburger have allowed weddings and other gatherings at the gardens in the past, and said they want to improve and expand their facility, adding gift shops and some food and beverage service. But some of the business’ immediate neighbors said the weddings already cause disruptive noise and traffic problems.

Previously the Neuburgers asked to have their property rezoned, but after initial opposition from their neighbors and a negative recommendation from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Neuburgers opted to ask for a variance instead of a rezoning. They also arranged an easement on the entrance road that will allow them to expand it, and rearranged the plans to add 27 parking spaces to the existing seven spots.

But neighbors remained adamant in their opposition.

"To bring commercial activity into this residential neighborhood completely removes the existing peace, tranquility, privacy and not to mention security," said Chrystalia Petersen, who lives adjacent to the botanical gardens.

"One again Klaus and Jackie Neuburger do not reside in Estate Crown and Hawk," Petersen said.

Leo Francis, another neighbor, said he was worried about increased traffic congestion and noise, as well as increased storm runoff after construction.

Several senators said they would have trouble supporting the Neuburgers’ variance request because of the depth of community opposition.

A request to rezone parcel 4CB Estate Smith Bay, St. Thomas, from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to B-2 (Business Secondary/Neighborhood) also looked in doubt due to opposition from DPNR and from neighbors.

Talal and Jawaher Salem requested the rezoning in the hopes of building a two-story structure with a grocery store and gas station on the first floor and offices upstairs.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Jawaher Salem said they had decided to eliminate the gas station part of the proposal to try to address the objections of neighbors. However several neighbors remain opposed to the store with or without a gas station.

Stuart Smith, director of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning at DPNR, said his board recommended the rezoning request be denied, in part because a rezoning is permanent and very broad. So regardless of what the owners say now, they could later change their minds and put in a gas station once the land is rezoned.

Senators – and DPNR – looked more favorably upon a request from Joseph Hodge to rezone 30 lots on 10 acres in Estate Smith Bay from A-1 (Agricultural District) to R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family). The rezoning would allow the owner to build "around 60 energy efficient dwelling units," engineer James Bernier testified.

Sens. Patrick Sprauve and Janette Millin-Young questioned Bernier about what the units would cost to build and what they would cost to the purchaser. Bernier said he had no pricing information. "But no $4 million home will sell in the Smith Bay area I can promise you that," Bernier said.

Meeting in committee of the whole, the Legislature cannot vote on a rezoning, only hear testimony.

Senate President Ronald Russell said the measures would need to be sponsored by a senator to be placed on the agenda for a vote. During the hearing, Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe said he would sponsor Joseph Hodge’s request, ensuring that it will receive a vote.

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