A request made by Longford Properties LLC to rezone 492.96 acres on the island of St. Croix from Agricultural Zone A-1 to A-2, which would allow for the acreage to be broken up into smaller lot sizes and used for affordable housing, was opposed by several testifiers during Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ territorial planner Leia LaPlace-Matthew said if the request is approved, the property, which is primarily vacant, would no longer require a minimum parcel size of 40 acres, and DPNR suggested the request should be denied.
Reginald Perry, representing Longford Property LLC, said the intent of the rezoning request is to divide the land into lots as small as two acres to be used for the building of residential homes. The only thing the land is currently being used for is the raising of livestock by the University of the Virgin Islands and by a few additional farmers.
Barbara Walsh, a 44-year resident of St. Croix, testified that she owns a neighboring property to the land being considered for rezoning, a request that she said has been made on four separate occasions and denied in the past by both the Legislature and DPNR.
“Longford Properties LLC bought the property in 2005 with full knowledge it was A-1 land and has made multiple attempts to rezone it. Their application includes a conceptual plan drawn in 2006 showing two-acre house lots directly on the coastline and along the borders of the property. It would appear that the applicant has had plans to subdivide this property since they acquired it,” Walsh said.
Perry said he could not say what the intent was of the landowners from the very beginning but that it “was never to take the farmers completely off.” He added they had never considered moving UVI off the property.
Testimony from Leonor Gillett, who has lived in St. Croix for 39 years and was concerned about beach access, was read by the court’s clerk.
“Yes, the beaches are public but the access to them is not. By not providing such access they are curtailing and or denying this sector of the population their means of livelihood. Our population swims and snorkels there too. They too will be denied access,” Gillett’s testimony said.
DPNR and the Legislature were never provided with complete plans from Longford Properties LLC that show how the land is to be developed if rezoned. Instead they were only were given plans for a small portion of the acreage, Perry said. He said future plans would include the housing development and leave the rest for agricultural purposes.
Additional testimony delivered before the committee revealed other concerns, namely regarding a proposed national park.
The president for the Trust for Virgin Islands Land Carlos Tesitor submitted testimony that said the site has historic and environmental resources that must be protected, as supported by the National Park Service.
“Our opposition is based on the summaries found in the National Park Service Castle Nugent Farms Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment. After a comprehensive study the report concludes that ‘the site meets established criteria for inclusion in the National Park System, and that the inclusion of the area into the National Park System enjoys strong local support,’” Tesitor’s testimony read.
Perry said Longford Properties management “had brought people in from the states to do archaeological surveys and studies to see what was there. On the property we have an indigenous plant that is there … and we understand the severity of it.”
Sens. Novelle Francis, Kenneth Gittens, Kurt Vialet, Allison DeGazon, Alicia Barnes, Javan James, Marvin Blyden, Myron Jackson, Stedman Hodge, Athneil Thomas and Dwayne DeGraff were all present for the meeting, but no vote was taken. Francis said the vote will be done in session on Sept. 16.