The Government Employees’ Retirement System discussed plans on Wednesday to build a 170-acre village for members of the organization in Estate Coakley Bay on St. Croix at a zoning hearing held by the Senate’s Committee of the Whole.
John Woods, cofounder of the Jaredian Design Group, said the proposed development was meant to be a self-contained neighborhood complete with businesses.
The plan called for a four-acre “town center” with 56,420 square feet of commercial space and 32 second-floor “loft” apartments. This would be surrounded by 165 residential lots and 70 independent living units for seniors.
Woods said 110 acres of the 170-acre area would be left as undeveloped green space, including a park area where pre-Columbian artifacts were discovered.
Woods believed the village could provide an attractive alternative to Florida for retirees on St. Croix who are interested in moving out of the family home into something smaller.
GERS was requesting that three parcels of land – remainder of matricular No. 1, remainder matricular No. 15, and remainder matricular No. 16-B in Estate Coakley Bay – be rezoned from R-1 to a planned area development.
Stuart Smith of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources spoke in favor of granting the zoning change.
GERS Administrator Austin Nibbs said construction on the development could begin within two years if the zoning changes were approved.
Senators had surprisingly few questions for Nibbs and the developers, perhaps because it was the third evening session for the Committee of the Whole in three days and the air conditioner in the conference room at the St. Croix facility was broken.
Notably none of the St. Croix senators remained for the GERS presentation, which was the last item of business for the day.
Sen. Donald Cole asked Nibbs how the development would be financially structured to ensure that it provided a return on the GERS investment. Nibbs replied that it was too early in the process to have a fully fleshed out business plan. He indicated, however, that the general idea was to have GERS members take out mortgages with the system to buy homes in the village.
Again, he said, it was too early to know how much these homes would cost, but he said the limit for mortgages issued by GERS was $350,000, so they would take that into consideration when pricing the homes.
Sens. Cole, Kenneth Gittens, Tregenza Roach, Clifford Graham and Shawn-Michael Malone spoke in favor of the zoning change and the development.
The committee also heard five other zoning petitions:
– Gregory Parris petitioned to have an R-2 plot adjacent to Central High School at No. 303 Clifton Hill on St. Croix rezoned B-3 to allow for the operation of a convenience store. In their report, DPNR said the convenience store would not be out of place in the neighborhood but opposed rezoning as a B-3 because it could allow other, inappropriate businesses to open on the site in the future. Instead they suggested creating a variance to the current R-2 zone to allow for the store to operate.
– Rookmin and Sally Balkaran requested an R-2 plot at No. 498-G Strawberry Hill on St. Croix be rezoned to B-3 to allow them to open a family takeout eatery, souvenir shop and two-bedroom home. In their report, DPNR said many surrounding plots had been similarly rezoned and the business would be in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. They recommended approval of the rezoning.
– Arriana Khan-Poyah requested an R-2 plot at No. 20 Estate Castle Coakley be rezoned to B-3 so she could relocate her restaurant, Ace Roti Shop, there from its current location in Estate Richmond. Again DPNR objected to the B-3 designation due to the large number of business types allowed in that zone, recommending a use variance of the R-2 zone instead.
– Adeline Javois Brandt requested a use variance be granted to an R-2 plot at No. 205 Estate Barren Spot so she could move her beauty parlor from its current location to her home so she could save money on rent. DPRN recommended approval of the rezoning.
– Daniel Kevin Smith requested an R-1 plot at No. 15C-10 Estate Rendezvous and Ditleff be rezoned R-2 so he can combine it with an adjacent R-2 plot he owns. In their report, DPNR said all of the surrounding plots were zoned R-2, so they had no objections to the change.
Sens. Cole, Gittens, Roach, Graham, Malone, Nereida Rivera O’Reilly, Judi Buckley, Terrence “Positive” Nelson and Craig Barshinger participated in the questioning. All stated satisfaction with the DPNR recommendations on these requests.
No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing. In order for zoning changes to take place, a senator must sponsor each petition and write a bill to affect the change, which would be voted on by the full body.