The demolition of another set of units in Estate Bournefield on St. Thomas is bringing to fruition plans by the V.I. Port Authority to relocate its maintenance division to the area, along with other future developments that have been proposed for when the remainder of the units have been torn down.
According to VIPA officials, five vacant units in the area are being demolished: Units 208, 211 and 217 along with duplexes 232 and 233. With the units down, construction of the new maintenance facility should begin by December.
Over the last few weeks, Bournefield residents have spoken about possible issues within the units that have been torn down, including asbestos in the roof and walls that they said could spread to nearby homes that still have tenants living inside.
At a VIPA board meeting on Sept. 22, the authority’s executive director, Carlton Dowe, said that his team would not have been able to get the permits needed for the demolition if any asbestos issues “had not been mitigated” and that notice of the demolition, which residents said they were not given, had been “personally delivered” that same day.
In the two weeks since, the units have been torn down with few additional concerns from the remaining residents, who Port Authority officials said they are still working with as plans continue to find an alternate site for Bournefield.
“VIPA is still working with the V.I. Housing Authority to build an alternative site for the remaining residents in Bournefield who wish to move to the new development,” VIPA spokeswoman Monifa Marrero-Brathwaite said Tuesday.
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 1940s 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, Dowe announced that the authority 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.
In the meantime, VIPA asked 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.
Officials have said that when the land was deeded to VIPA in the 1970s, 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. 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.
“The authority has embarked on a phased approach to the development of this property by first demolishing units as they become vacant,” VIPA chief engineer Dale Gregory said at a public hearing in February.
“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,” he said.