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St. John Coalition Wants Residents' Voices Heard in Development Debate

June 8, 2006 — A group of St. John residents agreed this week to work together as a coalition to address development matters – not only on their home island but throughout the territory.
It took less than two hours to create by consensus the St. John Coalition. The group also voted to adopt a mission statement and form a steering committee.
"The coalition is something that the people who participate in it are going to build," said organizer Alan Smith. Several members of the audience volunteered to serve on the steering committee and offered a list of names of people to approach to solicit their services as well.
According to handouts circulated during the meeting the coalition resulted from earlier discussions with a group promoting environmentally friendly building practices, which noticed a pattern of incongruous construction projects, like the proposed six-story building that was supposed to be built in Estate Pastory, about a mile up the road from Cruz Bay. Members of the coalition say they are concerned that some developers have persuaded local permitting agencies to interpret local laws in their favor, without regard to the communities where those projects were being carried out.
There were also concerns that those developers deliberately chose their sites because they were outside of Tier 1 in the V.I. coastal zone, where there is no notification requirement for those living nearby.
Local residents were able to rally and convince Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett to disallow the high-rise project in Pastory, but coalition leaders, like attorney Alan Smith, say unless St. John residents remain vigilant and unified, they will see more of the same.
Some of the people who showed up at the Sunday meeting at St. Ursula's Church Multipurpose Center were part of the Pastory challenge. Others came from Coral Bay, Fish Bay, Chocolate Hole, Bordeaux Mountain, Guinea Gut, Great Cruz Bay and Estate Rendezvous.
Also on hand were representatives of the St. Thomas-St. John Environmental Association, the St. John Historical Society and the Island Green Building Association.
Some homeowners came from areas where the group listed what they called "problem projects," including Grande Bay on the Cruz Bay waterfront.
Residents of St. Thomas also came to the meeting. Former Sen. Stephanie Scott-Williams, who brought along two of her grandchildren, praised organizers for their efforts to empower the community.
"You have come together, and this is the best thing that has happened to St. John," she said. "This is probably the thing that's going to save St. John, because we all feel what is happening here."
But Smith said the effort could not succeed unless all segments of St. John took part. He called on those attending to reach out to native St. Johnians and those hailing from other Caribbean islands.
Any effort to address the situation, he said, "will be futile unless this is a generally collective effort by native St. Johnians and Virgin Islanders, as well as residents originally from other Caribbean islands, the U.S. mainland and other places, who have chosen to make St. John their home."
The group's mission, is to get the average resident thinking about how they would like to see St. John grow and to build a grassroots consensus around that vision. They also want to show their neighbors how expanding construction affects their quality of life. The long-term goal of the coalition is to exercise influence over planning and construction policies, encourage enforcement of laws regarding planning and construction.
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