The St. Thomas/St. John Historic Preservation Committee voted Tuesday to allow Villa Santana’s owner Jeff Euwema to pay for repairing a crumbling retaining wall, which he said has been left unmaintained by the Department of Public Works, to achieve proper drainage runoff, but held off on allowing him to add a fence to the top of the property.
The crumbling retaining wall has wreaked havoc on the historic two-acre estate Villa Santana in Charlotte Amalie’s Queen’s Quarter, the owner said.
Euwema told the committee the problem is lack of drainage.
“The runoff from that lack of drainage is actually what has caused the first section of wall, that is a little bit further to the east, to fail,” Euwema said. “The drainage issue is one that needs to be mitigated,” Euwema said. “Right now, miraculously, Public Works is coming to clear the road and taking out some of the vagrant cars and has helped the drainage issue, but still with the rain it is overwhelming. And is right now just sitting in the road as opposed to hitting the wall.”
Committee Director Sean Krigger said he was not able to speak to Public Works before the meeting about any existing plans to fix the retaining wall, but Euwema said he has “talked with various people at the Department of Public Works over the years, but it’s not even on their radar given that they have over 400 projects.”
The committee voted to allow Euwema to repair the wall, although committee Chairwoman Pamela Montegut said she had reservations, not with the project but with the property owner having to do work properly in the sphere of Public Works.
“In this case, quite frankly, the property owner is doing the work the government should have done,” she said. “One of our residents is having to take this project on financially and the physical burden of it.”
While the committee approved the retaining wall repairs, they tabled Euwema’s secondary request to add a fence to the top of the retaining wall as a security measure because Krigger said the proposed fence could interfere with the ocean views.
“There has been a wall here, for hundreds of years I dare say. So, it’s not a question about putting up a retaining wall,” Krigger said. “The applicant is wanting to extend the height of that wall beyond its historical height. It has never been as high as the applicant is asking to do. They are introducing columns, that’s one element. Then they are also introducing a fill-in material between those columns and that’s where the area of concern is … This is really where you have that iconic view looking out to the harbor … The vistas would be lost.”
Euwema disagreed and insisted that security had become paramount in the neighborhood. He also argued that while other materials could be used to build the fence, his budget could only be stretched so far.
“The issue that I’m dealing with is that at 2:30 in the afternoon a car has stopped and decided to shoot out five rounds. I am looking to secure the property and also improve the general aesthetic around there,” Euwema said. “There is a definite cost when you are looking at wood versus masonry versus iron. While historical, iron would just exceed the budget that I have allocated to fix this retaining wall. I am trying to provide some security for the property, do it in an aesthetic really pleasing way, and provide a public good.”
Euwema said several other property owners have made similar investments to fix the retaining wall impacting their properties, some as high as 10 feet. But Krigger said many of these repairs were made before the commission was charged with the task of reviewing alterations made to historic structures.
Pleading with the committee, Euwema said, “It’s just the nature of the environment we live in where we’re surrounded by crime and decay. I have a little bit of money that I am obviously willing to invest in securing the property while trying to preserve the aesthetic … but the property has suffered over the years, and this is an attempt to try to improve and secure the property.”
The committee members said they agreed and understood the need for security but chose to review the site plans further and schedule a site visit before making a final decision on the proposed fence.
Separately, the committee also reviewed requests relating to business signage, paint color, and renovations of historical structures throughout the district.