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Friday, October 7, 2022
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Locals Should Control Planning Decisions

Dear Source,
The Virgin Islands' Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan has been long overdue and many would say it is time to implement it rather than improve it for another decade (as we have done for three now). (See "Long Road Ahead Seen for Land, Water Use Plan").
The plan has come far since the seventies, and while not perfect, has shown steady improvement in sophistication. The GIS mapping has added power to what used to be a cumbersome document but what now?
I listened to the DPNR commissioner's presentation in St. Thomas, Aug. 24, I was struck by the way the plan makes his department's job into one of "reading the answer out of the table". It must be assumed that the tables of permitted uses are a sign of, rather than a substitute for, good planning practice.
He failed to address the obvious and that is what happens when the developer comes forward with a planned project, which is not listed. A widely popular project may not be clearly allowable or an offensive project may be arguably allowable…according to the "Plan". What do we do?
DPNR indicates a decision would be made (by DPNR) after public input at a hearing. I would caution that we a have all heard that tune before. "Public input" has come to be known in the territory as a hearing to let the public vent and then on with business as usual i.e. spot zoning, the criteria of which is lost in the shaded halls of government offices. Spot zoning by DPNR will be no better than that which has come from the Senate.
My comment on this plan is that we change the administrator of the plan from DPNR to several planning boards, to be created, on each of the three main islands,
Each of these boards would improve and administer the planning process for their own district. Local knowledge could be added to each portion of the plan. The boards must be locally created as though we had municipal government and be volunteer in nature. The boards would have the best interests of each district's population in mind during decision-making, which would involve real public input.
It is a basic tenet in planning that development decisions can best and only should be made by people who have to live with the consequences of those decisions. The balance between growth and conservation is a tough one but those who live in a community are infinitely better suited to making the right choices than an agency far distant from the effects. Locally controlled planning, like the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan, is long overdue.
Terry Conklin
Coral Bay, St. John

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