The St. Thomas-St. John Historic Preservation Committee approved several applications and issued continuances to others during a marathon online meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Two Cruz Bay Restaurants get approval to update their exteriors
The first applicant to go before the committee was Laura Valente, one of four partners who are planning to open the Refinery, a new restaurant and bar in a historic Cruz Bay building formerly occupied by La Tapa.
Valente presented a set of requests to modify the exterior of the building and offered several options of paint colors and choices for lighting and fans for the committee’s approval.
Committee members carefully weighed the proposals Valente presented because of the building’s historic value. “This building is a gem,” said David Knight Sr., noting that the structure (built around the time of the 1917 Transfer) is listed as a contributing site on the National Historic Register.
The committee approved a request to enclose an alcove on the east side of the building, as long as the enclosure was built out of wood so that it could be removed if the owner ever wanted to restore the structure to its original form.
Valente also requested that a drink rail be installed over the existing railing to allow patrons standing outside on the small patio to be able to set down their drinks. The committee approved the railing if it was lowered enough so as not to impinge on the view of the building from the street.
The Refinery owners expect to offer “contemporary Caribbean cuisine” and a wide selection of specialty drinks including rums from throughout the Caribbean, Valente said.
Three of the four major partners, including Valente, have extensive experience in the hospitality industry. Valente’s husband is chef Nathan Bohning who has worked at Asolare, Fatty Crab, Sushi St. John, and Oceans 362.
Another owner is Brandon Towle, known as “the mohawk bartender,” of whom Valente said, “I don’t know if there is a restaurant in Cruz Bay he hasn’t worked for.” Jason Cawthron, who owns a solar energy business, is the fourth major partner.
Two other owners of the bar are Elderfield Roberts (St. John) and Dallas Osborne (Kentucky).
Valente said she expects the Refinery to open in early December, but the date isn’t certain because much of the equipment they ordered is coming from Florida, and its delivery has been delayed by Hurricane Ian.
Another St. John hospitality industry veteran presented the second application considered by the STTJ Historic Preservation Committee.
Christie Register is partnering with Andy Peters to open the Upstairs Bar & Grille, a sports bar planned for the space previously occupied by a series of Cruz Bay bars on the block between the Moorehead Building and the post office.
These bars include the Back Yard, Crazy Crackers, Duffy’s, Castaways, and most recently the Dog House.
Register and Peters currently operate the popular Windmill Bar in Estate Adrian with Ronnie Jones.
Committee members discussed Register’s proposal to put up a sign on the second floor. Regulations have not yet been written for the Cruz Bay Historic District, which was established in 2016, so the committee discussed limiting the sign to four square feet, the dimensions currently allowed in the Charlotte Amalie Historic District.
Much discussion centered on the placement of the sign. Committee members eventually agreed to allow the sign to be posted near a corner of the building and approved a permit for a wrought-iron gate to be erected at the entrance on the opposite side. They also approved the addition of red umbrellas (without any advertisements) to provide shade over tables on the second-floor deck.
Knight said the building has great historic significance as it is the oldest-known example of a vernacular wooden cottage in Cruz Bay. Prior to the establishment of the Cruz Bay Historic District, the owners added a stone façade which Knight said could ultimately damage the original structure.
Knight abstained from voting on the proposed changes. “I have a real problem with how this historic building is being treated,” he said.
Register said she and Peters plan to open the second level in mid-November and are still considering what to do with the area, including the bar on the street level.
Committee gets first look at extensive reconstruction near the 99 Steps in Charlotte Amalie
The STTJ Historic Preservation Committee spent much of its time reviewing a master plan to restore two historic cottages and construct a new home belonging to George Dudley and Susan Lugo near Government Hill.
Architect Kevin Qualls of Springline Architects presented a review of the property including a drawing of structures on the site from 1837.
The owners are proposing to rehabilitate the buildings on a consolidated site at Kongens Gade 26 & 27, an extensive property adjacent to the 99 Steps leading from Kongens Gade to Blackbeard’s Hill.
The master plan includes the construction of a new house with a pool and the renovation of two historic cottages, one of which needs to be demolished prior to reconstruction.
After discussing some concerns including zoning regulations, viewscapes, and permits for demolition, committee members approved the conceptual plan for the new building which features design elements consistent with the surrounding structures.
“Congratulations on a spectacular project,” said committee member Enrique Rodriguez.
Committee members also approved a request by the Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office and the Enterprise Zone Commission to rehabilitate the VISHPO office building at Dronningens Gade 5, KQ.
Plans include the installation of a new roof, siding, windows, and the removal of a large Ficus tree which is causing damage to the property.
Two Applicants Given Continuances
The St. Thomas-St. John Historic Preservation Committee voted to issue continuances for two applications considered at Tuesday’s meeting.
Gary Udhwani presented an application for new construction on a vacant lot at the foot of Mafolie Hill across from the old J. Antonio Jarvis School.
Udhwani said he bought the property on Hospital Line within the Charlotte Amalie Historic District in order to construct a showroom and warehouse for his solar equipment business.
The design appears to be a three-story building but actually has only two levels within it. “The second level is not floored as it will be the warehouse,” Udhwani said. The third floor, which will be developed in the future, will include space for residences. The site’s B-3 zoning allows three-story structures only if at least one level is reserved for residential use.
The building is not designed with a loading dock but has room for trucks to make deliveries below the warehouse level. The design includes eight parking spaces.
Committee members spent considerable time discussing the proposed structure’s size which they said was “monumental” compared to the adjacent buildings. They also expressed concerns about the design elements, including red brick tile, and white blocks accenting the corners used in some historic Danish structures.
“Federal preservation guidelines discourage people from making replicas of historic buildings in historic districts,” said Knight. “This building is neither historical nor modern. I’d prefer something like the other modern buildings in the neighborhood.”
Udhwani said he was hoping to get approval so he could start work immediately, but Sean Krigger, director of the VISHPO and an ex-officio member of the committee, said, “This is a major addition to the Historic District. You cannot expect to get it wrapped up in one sitting.”
Krigger said his office would continue to work with Udhwani to develop the design.
The Historic Preservation Committee also voted to continue the application submitted by Chanteel Daniels, Jabari Carrington, and First Choice Maintenance for a site listed as Commandant Gade O.V. 7-B (on Bred Gade).
The owners were asking to demolish a dilapidated structure and construct a new building. The committee members said they couldn’t issue a demolition permit without an engineer’s report on the state of the structure on the property.