Residents of Estate Bournefield pushed V.I. Port Authority officials Monday night to hold off on a possible rezoning of the area, located across from the St. Thomas airport, until an appraiser can be brought in to determine how switching from “residential” to “commercial” will affect their property values.
The back and forth between VIPA and the Bournefield residents goes back more than a decade. As the estate’s property owner, VIPA has tried for years to divest itself of the Bournefield property, with board members and at least two executive directors saying that it was never the authority’s intention to stay in the housing business. Officials have also said many of the units are safety hazards, since they were built in the 1940’s and have outlived their life expectancy.
Bournefield residents, however, have opposed VIPA’s position since at least 2006 and have, several times, stopped any demolition from moving forward. In 2011, the issue was even taken up by senators who threatened to pass a bill that would put a stop to VIPA’s plans to evict the tenants with just four months’ notice. Since then, VIPA has been demolishing the units as they become vacant, and in July 2013, current VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe announced that the port had begun looking for contractors for a new development in Lindbergh Bay that could house the Bournefield residents.
Any contractor selected for the project would be developing the remainder of Parcel 68, which is located at the rear of the University of the Virgin Islands campus. The land is owned by VIPA and would be leased or bought by the developer, according to previous news releases.
At Monday night’s public hearing at the Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning on St. Thomas, VIPA Chief Engineer Dale Gregory said the port is not backing off its previous plans. VIPA is not making a move to relocate the residents and is working with the V.I. Housing Authority to develop a solution for the residents’ concerns.
In the meantime, VIPA is asking that the area be rezoned from “residential” to “commercial” to allow for the relocation of the authority’s maintenance division and to provide for any other future development as the units are torn down, Gregory said.
When the land was deeded to VIPA in the 1970’s, it was meant for “aviation use” and supporting facilities related to the airport, so that any development revenue would be put toward the airport’s budget or funding, Gregory said. As there has become more demand for airport land, relocating the maintenance division – which is right on the airport apron – to vacant Bournefield property will allow others to come in and develop general aviation hangar space, Gregory said.
“The authority has embarked on a phased approach to the development of this property by first demolishing units as they become vacant,” he said. “As part of the first phase, the authority will relocate its maintenance facility to the southeast section of the property in order to make available valuable on-airport property. The Port Authority intends to fill the demand for cargo storage by systematically developing warehouse buildings on the property.”
While Gregory said the maintenance building relocation would not directly impact current tenants, several attending Monday’s hearing expressed concern about the reappearance of development plans that they thought had been tabled.
Other residents, such as Josephine Lindquist, also questioned if VIPA had conducted an impact study on how extra lights, noise and new commercial buildings would affect the area.
Gregory said nothing but the maintenance facility will be immediately put in and that the project not only has to get approved locally, but on a federal level. The Federal Aviation Administration will look at all possible impacts, but has so far been supportive of VIPA’s plans to make use of the property, he said.
“If they don’t approve it, then we can’t move forward, but I know that they have been very interested in anything that would increase commerce, like putting down additional hangars that would increase service to our users here,” Gregory said. “We have told them we are trying to resolve the issues with Bournefield, including entering into this agreement with the Housing Authority. But we have to do something toward moving in the direction of developing this property for aviation use.”
While a few residents questioned why the maintenance building could not have gone in the area of the grocery store that is currently under construction near UVI, longtime Bournefield resident Leann Carty said she was more worried about the property values in the area if the zoning changes.
Responding to her concerns, Gregory said he could not say what the impact would be, but promised that he would check into having an appraiser come in and see what the values are now and what they would increase or decrease to.
“It’s been a vibrant discussion and I heard, like I usually do, all your concerns, and I will take it back to my bosses,” Gregory said as Monday’s hearing wrapped up. “There are also several Port Authority staffers in here and we will huddle and look at the issues.”