The future of a small, teardrop-shaped lot across from the Bordeaux Mountain Road on St. John was the subject of a virtual public zoning meeting held Tuesday afternoon by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
The property owner is seeking to rezone parcel 8-Y Estate Carolina from R-1 (low-density residential) to B-2 (business-secondary/neighborhood).
Russell Johnson, trustee for the R. Johnson VI Holdings Living Trust, said the property has been in commercial use and taxed accordingly since the 1980s.
The .37-acre property is the former site of the Colorful Corner, a brightly painted souvenir shop and art gallery. That business closed and the building remained vacant for several years until the structure was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
The property has commanding views of Coral Bay on one side and the Reef Bay Valley on the other. It sits directly opposite to the entrance of Bordeaux Mountain Road and the ruins of Chateau de Bordeaux, a popular restaurant with nearby shops that was also destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
Now Johnson wants to formalize the zoning for business use and construct a complex that will include four shops, about 100 square feet each, a bar and grill and two 200-square-foot rental units.
Jon Euwema, creative director of Lab4 Development, LLP, completed the conceptual drawings for the complex now called Coral Reef Ridge. He said he drew the plans according to Johnson’s wishes, but “sometimes wishes are not fulfilled. We’re bringing this plan forward to have an open dialogue.”
Johnson, who grew up on St. John, but has since moved away, said he was looking to build a place for him to live, work and make money. “I’d like it to be the colors of a coral reef, pretty, attractive – like a coral reef on top of a mountain.”
The plan calls for a bar and grill to accommodate around 40 customers. Johnson said it would be open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and reopen for dinner from 5:00 -10:30 p.m. Johnson estimated the complex would provide employment for seven to nine employees at one time.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several members of the virtual audience weighed in with concerns about traffic flow around the sharp curve of the property and parking issues.
“Coming out of Bordeaux Road is dangerous enough. Parking around that corner will be very bad,” Steve Correia said during the meeting chat.
“The sight distance for the driveway and parking is inadequate and dangerous for this blind switchback,” David Silverman said on the chat.
Sharon Coldren questioned drawings, which showed parking spaces along the edge of the complex which would force drivers to back out into a federal highway.
Johnson said the plan includes nine parking spaces, but more could be added. He said the design was preliminary and could be amended to allow one entrance and exit; also, the number of required spaces could be decreased by making the restaurant smaller.
Euwema said when Chateau de Bordeaux was in operation, it’s owner, Wilma Marsh Monsanto, was granted permission to let patrons park on public property at the entrance to Bordeaux Mountain Road. Euwema said he didn’t know if that arrangement was ever formalized in a deed.
Lorelei Monsanto, Wilma Marsh Monsanto’s daughter, said plans were in place to rebuild Chateau de Bordeaux and that Coral Reef Ridge’s inadequate parking would definitely be a problem.
DPNR Planner Leia LaPlace read a statement submitted by Lorelei Monsanto giving additional reasons for her opposition to the rezoning request.
Monsanto said a plan of that scale would require the developers to change the configuration of the mountainside, which would affect the flow of water in the area. She said the extra traffic on a blind corner made it dangerous.
“It’s a difficult site, I agree,” Johnson said, “I didn’t cut the roads. The Navy cut those roads. We got what we got. With Jon’s architectural experience and my engineering background, we can add some value to this location working through the permitting process.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, LaPlace said the public is welcome to submit comments through Sunday, Oct.11. Comments can be sent to email@example.com.
The rezoning process involves multiple steps. DPNR has 30 days to make a recommendation report which goes to the DPNR commissioner for signing. The proposal is then sent to the Legislature.
The Senate Committee of the Whole then calls a hearing to discuss the rezoning request. Following that, if a senator sponsors the bill, the Senate schedules another session to vote on the proposal. Finally, if the Senate votes in favor of the zoning change, it is sent to the governor for his signature.