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July 22, 2003 – Homeowners on the West End of St. Thomas had reason to rejoice Monday night as the Senate Committee of the Whole turned down a rezoning application to build a gas station and convenience store in what would be, basically, their front yards.
The rezoning was being sought by Michael Dixon – who was conspicuously absent from the meeting – from R-2 (residential-low density, one- and two-family) to B-3 (business-scattered) – to allow for the operation of a gas station, convenience store and small office at No. 10 Estate Hope.
Dixon, owner of Courtesy Garage in Sub Base, has said he owns a storm-damaged house in Estate Hope that he wants to turn into the convenience store and office, with the gas station outside.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources was not in favor of the rezoning. Marjorie Hendrickson-Emanuel, director of the DPNR comprehensive and coastal zone planning division, said such a rezoning would have an "adverse impact on the West End area."
And the residents couldn't have agreed more. While Dixon wasn't in attendance, the opposition was strongly represented. The chamber was packed with West End residents, who joined together as they had at a March 11 CZM hearing. At that time, when Dixon asked if they would approve a convenience store alone, the group responded with a chorus of voices with a resounding "No!"
Zolayma Febres-Belle raised objections to the gas station and convenience store at the earlier hearing, and she repeated these concerns Monday night. A member of the large Carrillo family who owns several homes in the immediate area, Febres-Belle said at that time, "My grandparents built here more than 30 years ago. It is a quiet area where I want to raise my children."
She said she had recently moved back to the property she has owned for 40 years. "It's a terrible idea," she said of Dixon's proposal. "More families, yes, but no businesses."
The main objections the opponents raised were invasion of privacy, quality of life, noise and traffic hazards, negative impact on real estate values and lack of an environmental study. Critics noted that underground gasoline tanks can leak into aquifer, the potential fire hazard of gasoline storage tanks, and fear of crime with a cash register on the premises.
In an emotional but controlled plea on Monday, Febres-Belle voiced the thought of many of the residents as she delineated the above with the added caution that the rezoning "only opens the door for gas stations, convenience stores and 141 other businesses."
Febres-Belle noted that at the earlier hearing, Dixon was the only person who was in favor of the plan. "Virtually everyone who lives in the nearby area is in opposition," she said Monday.
Jason Budsan, Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John (EAST) issues chairman, said this proposed rezoning emphasizes the need for the implementation of a comprehensive land and water use plan.
"I have faith that this will be done to avoid the constant inappropriate spot zoning issues, like the one before us tonight." Budsan expressed hope that Sen. Louis Hill, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee chairman, would commence hearings on a plan soon.
Hill's office said Tuesday morning that plans are on the way for such hearings. Governor Charles W. Turnbull instructed DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett in March to begin working on the plan, an aide said. She said talks are presently ongoing between Plaskett and Hill to set up hearings.
Hill has been a strong advocate of the plan. In an interview shortly after he took office, Hill said the idea for such a plan has been around for two decades. "I can't say how strongly I feel about that," he said. "There was a plan done during the Farrelly administration and never taken off the shelf. We need to work with what we have to create a model for the rest of the Caribbean."
The senators voted to table the Dixon rezoning and "let it die a natural death." They did, however, approve seven rezoning applications:
– Lloyd Norford – Parcel No. 32B Estate Frydendahl, No. 4 East End Quarter: from B-4 (Business-Residential) to B-3 (Business-Scattered), for an electrical supply retail business.
– Spencer L. Browne – Parcel No. 2-1 Estate Mariendahl, No. 4 Reed Hook Quarter: from R-2 (Residential-Low Density, 1 and 2 Family) to B-3, for businesses and apartments.
– Zubair Kazi and Kahija Kazi – Parcel No. A-2 and A-1A Estate Thomas, No. 6K New Quarter: from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to B-3, for offices.
– Edward E Thomas and Lucia A. Thomas – Parcels No. 52-3, 52-3A and 52 Remainder Estate Frydendahl, No. 4 East End Quarter: from R-2 to B-3, for businesses.
– Estate of Joseph Questel – Parcel No. 7 Agnes Fancy, No. 8 Great Northside Quarter: from R-1 to R-2, for a family subdivision.
– Old Wireless and Telegraph Inc. – Parcel No. 36 Estate Nisky, No. 6 Southside Quarter: from R-3 (Residential-Medium Density) to B-2 (Business-Secondary Neighborhood) for businesses.
– Housing Parks and Recreation Department – Parcel No. 33-139 Estate Nadir, No. 2 Red Hook Quarter: from R-2 to S (Special); and Parcel No. 178-217, 178-230, 178-231 and a portion of Parcel No. 178 Remainder Estate Altona and Welgunst, Kronprindsens Gade: from R-4 (Residential-Medium Density) to S (Special), for home ownership.
The applications were also met with favorable recommendations by DPNR. They will now be sent to the full Senate for final consideration.
Sen. Lorraine Berry, Sen. Douglas Canton, Sen. Roosevelt David, Sen. Carlton Dowe, Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, Sen. Luther Renee, Sen. Ronald Russell and Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. attended the meeting.

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