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Nov. 24, 2001 – More than 20 people spoke Friday night in opposition to the proposed zoning changes that would allow for the development of a 5-star resort and residential community at Botany Bay on the far West End of St. Thomas.
The opponents — representatives of such groups as the League of Women Voters and the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, residents of the West End, marine biologists and others — aired their concerns for more than three hours at the Planning and Natural Resources Department hearing.
Other than representatives of Botany Bay Partners, the development firm which is seeking the zoning change, no one spoke in favor of it.
DPNR officials will consider the hearing testimony and documentation on the proposed project — which calls for a 125-room hotel, 80 time-share units, 55 condominium units and about 40 residential lots — in arriving at a recommendation on the zoning change request. That recommendation will be sent to the Legislature, which will decide whether to approval the change.
DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett, whose decision the recommendation will be, did not attend the Friday night meeting.
Botany Bay Partners also would need permits from the Coastal Zone Management Committee before it could move forward with its plans.
Much of the opposition expressed to the zoning change centered on environmental matters, public access to the property, and concern about what will happen to the archeological sites at Botany Bay, which range from petroglyphs more than 1,000 years old to the remains of a sugar plantation.
But William Karr, the architect who made most of the Botany Bay Partners presentation, said the development would be constructed in such a way as to minimize the environmental impact. He said it would have the lowest building density of any resort in the territory, that the public would have access to the beaches at Botany Bay, and that the historic sites would be preserved.
"It's an eco-tourism project. When you look at the methodologies we'll use, they're standard, out-of-the-book eco-tourism methodologies," Karr said. "I find it unusual that the people who profess to be concerned for the environment oppose this."
But some of the people who spoke in opposition noted that they did not see any plans for solar energy use, tent accommodations or composting of waste. Others said they had not heard the developers say anything about using local products, providing jobs at a decent wage or allowing for partial ownership by Virgin Islands residents.
"I don't think this will enhance the quality of life for Virgin Islanders," the Rev. Philip Schulman of the Unitarian-Universalist congregation, said. "The destruction of our environment is happening, piece-by-piece, day-by-day, through decisions by local governments."
Other concerns raised included these:
– Linda Kean, who owns property at Mermaid's Chair adjacent to the proposed development, said she is worried about tourists degrading her property, and that the developers would be infringing on her property rights.
– Several people noted that the Botany Bay area was highlighted in a 1993 study by DPNR as an "area of particular concern" because of its environmental and historical resources, and that the area has been mentioned as a good candidate for inclusion in a territorial park system.
– Several scientists noted that the coral reefs of Botany Bay are among the few near St. Thomas that remain in good health. Sedimentation and increased human use that would come with a resort could change that, they said.
– Paul Corning, one of the heirs of the Corning kitchenware empire who sold the Botany Bay property to the developers in 2000, sent a letter that was read; it indicated that he and other family members felt they had been deceived by Botany Bay Partners, which, he said, had indicated it was interested only in a small development. "None of us wanted to see its natural beauty destroyed by a large development," Corning wrote. "If we had known this, the property would not have been sold. I am sad and embarrassed by this."
– Some opponents said decisions on development should be based on factors other than pure profit: "We have lost so much because we keep putting economics, economics, economics, economics first," said Caroline Brown, a member of EAST who lives in Tutu. "We must take a more active role, or we're going to find ourselves living in a concrete jungle."
Ken Foote, a general managing partner of Botany Bay Partners, said that he does hope the development will turn a profit. But he assured the audience that he and the other developers care about the environment and will work to keep intact "one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen."
Foote and his associates said the plans were designed to maintain a residential feel, that area residents would gain access to Botany Bay for the first time in years, and that the developers would work hard to maintain the historic resources.

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