Senate Hears Rezoning Request for Sugar Estate Medical Center

Map shows the area of the proposed medical center, including the estate road, shown in red.
Map shows the area of the proposed medical center, including the estate road, shown in red.

The Senate Committee of the Whole on Tuesday listened to largely supportive arguments surrounding a request to rezone an undeveloped parcel In Sugar Estate from residential to business to make way for a three-story medical center.

JRS Holdings, LLC is petitioning the Legislature to rezone Parcel No. 48 Estate Thomas, No. 6A New Quarter on St. Thomas. The area sits just to the northwest of Paragon Medical Building, another medical center behind the Schneider Regional Medical Center, and is currently zoned R2 — residential low-density. Petitioner Jerry Smith intends to build what would be called the Ensemble Commercial Center, a $6- to $10-million mixed-use development consisting of medical offices, retail stores, a wellness center, and residential units for primarily short-term patients seeking medical treatment.

“The Ensemble Commercial Center seeks to meet the need for high quality commercial space,” stated Smith. “This facility seeks to provide a high-traffic commercial trade center that offers a cohesive environment where medical, professional, and retail entities can thrive, grow and more conveniently serve the consumers of a variety of services.

Although they do not oppose the new development, a couple of residents have voiced concerns over the inevitable increase in traffic to the facility and its impact on the single estate road currently servicing some 12 residences in the area. The estate road, which branches off of Gertrude Garden Drive that hugs the right side of Schneider Hospital, is a narrow, one-lane road that may need to be widened to accommodate increased traffic, according to residents.

“We respectfully request that should the neighborhood estate rood be used by JRS Holdings to access their development that DPNR make it a prerequisite that they be responsible for the widening and paving of the access roadway to allow for two-way traffic between the main public road and what will be their estate road access to their development,” wrote resident Robert Moron to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources in an April 8 letter.

DPNR recommends approval of the rezoning request, according to DPNR Territorial Planner Leia LaPlace-Matthew, but with the condition that JRS Holdings addresses the road issue. Either they widen some 200 feet of the estate road or they build an easement accessing the proposed development from the west, subject to building requirements by DPNR and the Department of Public Works, said Matthew.

Joseph Caines, legal counsel for JRS Holdings, said discussions for the construction of the easement are ongoing between Smith and the Lockhart Corporation.

“The engineering work that has to be done has not taken place as yet,” said Caines. “That has to be done to determine not only the length but the road has to be built in such a way that when
it rains, you don’t have any drainage issues. It’s just a matter of Mr. Smith and [the Lockhart Corporation] coming up with a written agreement.”

Lawmakers generally voiced support for the development, with some saying they will vote in the affirmative when the rezoning request comes up in session.

The Committee of the Whole also reviewed a request by VI Christian Ministries for a use variance for Parcel No. 105 Remainder Estate Bolongo Bay, No. 3 Frenchman’s Bay Quarter, also on St. Thomas. The organization wants to convert the old bowling alley into rental office space and storage.

According to DPNR, they received 32 emails of support and 21 emails or phone calls of opposition to use variance, with concerns ranging from potential flooding, increase in traffic and the lack of analysis on possible issues related to pollution or sound.

“The department evaluated the request against the previously mentioned concerns by neighbors and finds that the request is reasonable due to no new construction being proposed for the site and the similar intensity of a bowling alley to office use,” said Matthew.

Both rezoning requests will be heard in the next senate session.

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