A Senate panel voted favorably Wednesday to move a bill to amend V.I. Coastal Zone Management laws to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
The measure approved by the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment and Planning would make official the current name of the department, increase the terms and per diem of members of the CZM Commission, modify standards for coastal zone permits, decrease the period to file an appeal and decrease the period within which the Board of Land Use Appeals must hold a public hearing on an appeal.
The senators discussed how long a development permit should be good. A development permit now lasts one year. The bill would extend it to three years.
John Woods, representing the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce, said extending it to three years was good but he favored it being extended to five years.
Many projects requiring CZM permits also require financing and finance negotiations can take more than two years. He said a longer timeframe for development permits would dramatically reduce the proliferation of extension requests that plague CZM.
Alex Golubitsk, counsel for Cowgirl Bebop LLP, and William Perkins, testified the changes to the CZM procedures would be beneficial to both the tourism industry and to CZM.
Cowgirl Bebop plans to open a floating bar/restaurant between Grass and Mingo Islands in the Pillsbury Sound, between St. Thomas and St. John. Golubitsk testified that because of the present structure of CZM, instead of being able to move forward on this project, his client has been forced to sue CZM.
Jean-Pierre Oriol, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, said his department is in support of the higher dollar determination for an application being a minor or major permit. This dollar value, he said, had not been increased since 1978, and is long overdue. The change would allow more projects to be completed under the minor permit process, which is less complicated. The commission would have the power to transfer a project from the minor permitting process to a major permit if the environmental impacts were expected to be large.
Attending the hearing were Sens. Alicia Barnes, Kurt Vialet, Novelle Francis Jr., DeGazon, Kenneth Gittens, Marvin Blyden, Javan James and Athneil Thomas. Sen. Myron Jackson was absent.