Nothing illustrates the split personality of Virgin Islanders as well as a proposal to build a hotel.
During its Friday morning session, the Senate Committee of the Whole had before it a proposal to convert existing buildings to accommodate a 39-room hotel in Estate Bakkero, St. Thomas. The developers needed the property be rezoned from Residential Low Density to Residential Medium Density.
Neighbors were against it.
Former Sen. Roosevelt David, representing the developers Isolar Morning Star, testified for the firm.
“During construction, 25 to 30 local jobs will be available, and 45 to 50 permanent jobs will be created upon completion,” David said.
He added that his clients had already compromised with the neighbors.
“After the public hearing in October, Isolar Morning Star has agreed to scale back an already small development from 39 to 32 rooms, reduce parking spaces from 75 to 100 to 48 parking spaces, 25 of which will be underground and 23 above, to include two parking spaces for the disabled.”
A testifier at the hearing who said he represented the residents of the area said they were strongly opposed to the project and did not see the need for it.
Wilbur Callender, a resident of the Bakkero community for 34 years, sent a letter to Senate President Novelle Francis Jr.
“The owners of the project have flagrantly flouted Virgin Islands law for many years; now they want you to legitimize their lawlessness by rewarding them with a zoning change from R-1 to R-3. Your complicity in this action will be a slap in the face to the Bakkero homeowners, and Virgin Islanders in general,” Callender’s letter said.
Sen. Allison DeGazon said the opponents risked sending developers to other islands.
“People don’t want to see anything disrupt what they see as paradise. … Every time we turn down a developer, they go to another island,” she said.
Callender wrote, “The project’s authorized agent has suggested to you that this 39-room hotel will have little or no impact on the area. He does not live in the area; he does not know that to be true. … I am certain that most Bakkero homeowners are not against development, but development should be carefully considered, and the appropriate sites selected. It should also consider the social and environmental impacts this development will have on neighbors, and not be solely concerned with the objectives of making a windfall for the developer and tax gains for the government.”
But Davis said territory needs new development.
“The question is asked how many new hotels have been built in the Virgin Islands in the last 30 years? Aren’t we lagging and lagging and lagging?” he said. “The specific intent of the developer is to remodel and retrofit two existing buildings, damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and are to be transformed into a 39-room, upscale boutique hotel. This facility is expected to contain a restaurant, pool and bar. An in-house mini laundry is optional.”
Residents expressed concern about how all that could be done on just a little over an acre of property. DeGazon acknowledged, “Density is an issue.”
Before the storms of 2017, the buildings in question housed 15 rooms that served as Airbnbs.
The senators also heard a request to rezone Parcel No. 19-2-104 Estate Smith Bay, St. Thomas from an Agricultural Zone to Residential Medium Density.
The request by Carl Christopher would bring seven dwelling units that he inherited into compliance. His wife read his testimony at the hearing because he is serving in the military away from the Virgin Islands. No opposing testimony was offered.
In the testimony he wrote, “The truth is that this property has been operating illegally for close to 30 years and I’m going to make it right within the law. I will use it to carry on the legacy of my parents and do my part to ensure I provide adequate living spaces for families in the Virgin Islands.”
Attending the session were Sens. Alicia Barnes, Marvin Blyden, DeGazon, Dwayne DeGraff, Francis, Donna Frett-Gregory, Stedmann Hodge Jr., Myron Jackson, Javan James, Steven Payne Sr., Janelle Sarauw and Athneil Thomas.