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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 19, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentBeeston Hill Residents “Disgusted” By Senate

Beeston Hill Residents “Disgusted” By Senate

The Senate voted to rezone 16 acres in the heart of a long-established residential area. (Photo: 34th Legislature files)

People in and around the Beeston Hill, St. Croix neighborhood, said Friday they felt betrayed by their government after a late-night Senate compromise allowed commercial development on more than 11 acres of green space in the heart of the residential area.

Developers of the proposed strip mall and condominiums purchased 15.9 acres of residentially-zoned land in 2020 with the intention of having the status changed to a more-valuable business zoning, they said at a November Senate hearing. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources had already denied the rezoning request because of the development’s potential impact on flooding, traffic, quality of life in the area and because so many people objected to it.

Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory sponsored legislation for the zoning change and told her fellow St. Thomas-St. John senators not to interfere. She and St. Croix senators Kurt Vialet, Novelle Francis and Kenneth Gittens described the objections as coming from mainland “snowbirds” renting their residences out while living off island.

Many longtime and well-known Crucians in the area bristled at the characterization. They created an online petition to prove their numbers that gathered more than 860 signatures and 61 comments of support.

Most of the comments called for redeveloping vacant strip malls already scattered across the island, as well as a comprehensive land and water use plan rather than spot zoning.

Lawrence Kupfer, a Beeston Hill resident since 2008 and former president of the Hovensa refinery, echoed the sentiment Friday.

“My comment is that 860 individuals have signed the petition that is circulating to stop the rezoning, and the vast majority of commenters continue to say that developers should use existing commercially zoned and underutilized property,” Kupfer said.

An 11th-hour compromise among senators allowed for 30 percent of the land to be spared, giving developers 11.15 acres for businesses that cannot include bars, taverns, nightclubs, outdoor music, or gas stations. But by the time the vote was taken after 11 p.m., Vialet had already left. Only Sen. Carla Joseph and Sen. Janelle Sarauw, Vialet’s running mate in a failed gubernatorial bid, voted against the measure.

Frett-Gregory did not return calls requesting comment Friday.

Joan Kupfer, secretary and treasurer of the local homeowners association, said senators from both districts ignored their pleas and plowed ahead in “neighborhood busting.”

“Also this compromise that the senators think solved the zoning issue was a compromise between themselves; the residents were not given the details until they announced the amendment on the Senate floor. We the residents did not compromise and stand with our position stated in the petition that DPNR process should be followed so another public hearing could be held,” she said. “The amendment did not go far enough as it did not limit a grocery store or shopping center or require the housing to be phase 1 of the project.”

In DPNR’s recommendation against rezoning from residential to business, Assistant Commissioner Keith Richards said building housing on the land would help alleviate the Virgin Islands’ housing shortage.

David Doward, who had been renovating a historic great house in the area and was in the process of moving his medical practice back to his ancestral St. Croix homeland, said he felt profoundly betrayed to the point where he would limit his investment in the territory.

“I will never feel comfortable investing in another property in the Virgin Islands now that I know the zoning can be changed at the will of any developer who gives favor to the Senate,” Doward said. “The fact that the majority of senators would vote in favor of moving forward with a proposed development that has not been properly vetted — with some disingenuously mischaracterizing the vetting process — and against the recommendations of DPNR and the will of greater than 850 people in the community has eroded my trust in government.”

Judith Lordi, who was born in the great house Doward was renovating, called for proper studies of what will build profitable, long-lasting community building.

“Pretty soon, all over St. Croix will be three more derelict shopping malls and rinky-dink shops and no tax money or viable businesses. Soon we will be a bunch of unemployed looking for a tourism’s crumbs,” Lordi said.

She likened the Senate’s approval of the project to crabs pulling each other down in a barrel.

“The crab sees someone getting ahead and pulls him down on purpose,” Lordi said. “I’m just angry now and pretty disgusted.”

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