Much has been said of the reaction of St. Thomas community members to the private construction of a federally funded low-income housing development in the Estate Lovenlund area known as Lovenlund Apartments — ½ mile from Magens Bay beach, and adjacent to Mahogany Run Golf Course, St. Thomas Dairies, Udder Delight and Magens Point Resort.
Much of what has been said has been based on emotion, political baiting and carefully crafted propaganda from the developer, rather than the true concerns of the people.
Given the following open issues and questions, is there any doubt that any established community would be concerned or alarmed at the sudden construction of such a sizable project without the developer or governmental agencies informing the public or providing opportunities to inquire into the details of the impact on the surrounding areas prior to actual construction?
Who is the developer?
The project is being built by Reliance Housing Foundation of Florida, an off-island developer without any roots in this community or prior building experience on the island.
The developer took advantage of a loophole in the zoning code by submitting permit applications just before the Planning and Natural Resources commissioner directed that all major projects, whether within the Coastal Zone or not, be treated the same, requiring full review and public hearings. As a result, no public hearings were held and no public input was sought or obtained during the approval process.
Survey and study concerns
It also appears that the developer managed to get construction permits without having a valid business license and being deficient in his application to register to do business in the Virgin Islands. Is there anyone currently living or doing business in the Virgin Islands that could do that?
Does the developer care what happens to our environment or about the history of the Virgin Islands?
The site potentially impacts two adjacent V.I. historical resource sites and may itself contain historical or archaeological resources that have not been identified, inventoried or cared for as required by law. These are resources that federal and local Virgin Islands law has sought to protect for the benefit of the people of the Virgin Islands. Yet, to date, a Historical and Cultural Resources Survey has not been performed. This survey is required by federal law prior to receiving earth change permits. How did the developer get permits from the Planning and Natural Resources Department without the federally mandated survey being done? Why is the developer not abiding by our laws?
The developer has yet to provide any studies addressing environmental concerns such as sewage discharge, erosion control and water runoff which could ultimately impact the Magens Bay watershed, Lovenlund Bay coral reefs and North Side fishing grounds. In fact, the attorney for the developer has said if there is any runoff from a downed sewage treatment facility or sheeting from the gray-water system, the people don't have to worry — the runoff will not go into Magens Bay but into the Atlantic. Why does the developer think it is OK to contaminate the Atlantic (Lovenlund Bay)?
What happens to our tourism?
The movement of any potential pollution from Lovenlund Bay along the North Side into Magens Bay could negatively impact the overall tourist appeal of the Magens Bay environment. What happens if there is a newspaper headline, "Magens Bay beach closed due to contamination!" or "Atlantic contaminated by runoff!" Has the developer in any way said he will take responsibility and clean up any contamination? Has the developer guaranteed the people of the Virgin Islands that if Magens Bay closes due to contamination, he will reimburse our losses? The developer will say these things won't happen, but can he guarantee the people of the Virgin Islands that they won't?
The apartment entrance is not only at a dangerous intersection but is located on the sole road to Magens Bay beach, which will increase traffic congestion for residents, taxi drivers and the thousands of tourists who visit Magens Bay beach every year. Will Magens Bay beach continue to have its appeal if there are continued accidents and delayed traffic?
Site and size concerns
Is this an ideal location for a dense housing development?
The area surrounding the proposed Lovenlund Apartments is generally considered "country" — with no grocery stores, public bus routes or potable water systems and only one overcrowded public school.
The developer's attorney has said the apartments will have their own van service. Will these vans provide service to all necessary places like grocery stores, doctors' offices or schools? Will this van service run regularly? Is there going to be a charge for this van service? Will this prevent taxis from transporting residents to the apartments? Are there any written guarantees from the developer for this service?
The developer has also promised various recreational and educational facilities to residents of the apartment complex, but again there is nothing in writing guaranteeing the construction and maintenance of these facilities. Will the developer be around to enforce any of these promises?
What are the developer's true intentions?
The current construction permits call for 10 three-story buildings totaling 99 residential units with an estimated 400 residents. The developer would also have us believe that the project site is the current 15-acre area limited from public view.
In fact, representations of the developer suggest that the total phased-in project can continue to grow into the surrounding 50 acres with the potential construction of 60-plus buildings with the capacity to house over 2,400 residents.
Will the sewage treatment plans for the initial phase be adequate to cover the full phased-in project? No one knows, because frequent requests for copies of the current sewage treatment plans have been ignored by the developer. Without adequate water or sewage systems and with no infrastructure, how can the residents of the Virgin Islands be assured that the surrounding environment will be protected by this developer?
The accompanying photograph vividly portrays the project site not seen from the road or surrounding hill.
Did you know the federal tax credits received by the developer to build this development only require the developer to maintain the community as low-income housing for 15 years? What will the developer do then? Will the lower-income residents be allowed to stay, or does the developer have other plans for the property once the tax credits expire?
Aren't our laws, governmental agencies, and elected officials supposed to protect all the people of the Virgin Islands?
The failures of the current review system and the advantage taken of those failures are what have disappointed and alarmed residents who have invested in their homes, their communities and their livelihoods with an expectation of fairness for all Virgin Islanders.
What can the public do?
– Express your concerns about the potential impact a project of this size will have on sensitive environmental and cultural areas. It should not be allowed to proceed without full public review and input, plus certain guarantees from potential developers and builders.
– Make your vote count in November.
– Go look at the site; see for yourself the potential danger to the V.I. environment.
– Call or write each one of the senators to indicate your disapproval.
– Call or write the governor to indicate your disapproval.
– Call in to talk shows.
– Write letters to the editor.
– Register your support or interest in helping in a particular way by e-mailing to: Lovenlund support.
– To help in a particular way, send or drop off the form belo
w to Red Hook Mail Center, 6501 Red Hook Plaza, Suite 201 PMB, St Thomas VI 00802.
I would like to help in any way I can to support the Concerned Citizens to Protect Lovenlund and Magens Bays. Please add my name to the information database and contact me with information about how I can help.
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