After more than a year’s delay, the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands finally got a chance to present its plan to build a chapel and three other structures on its 2.83-acre site in Estate Carolina in Coral Bay.
The five members of the St. John Committee of the Coastal Zone Management Commission heard testimony for the project during a public meeting held online Wednesday.
Members of the public can still review the plans here dpnr.vi.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/St-Therese-210706-EAR.pdf and email comments to email@example.com through Dec. 7.
The plan calls for the construction of a chapel named in honor of St. Therese, as well as a community center, a nuns’ residence, and a base of operations for Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, which will include meal and transitional housing services for displaced people.
The project is located at Parcel 6R-2C Estate Carolina, on King’s Hill Road, just past Love City Market. Clergy members from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church have been holding Sunday Mass under a tent at the site for more than two years.
The plan also calls for the construction of a parking area for 46 cars, a cistern, an accessory road, a wastewater treatment plant, and required utilities and services. “The project shall be highly storm resistant, low maintenance, and shall incorporate technologies to reduce energy use (net neutral goal),” according to the Environmental Assessment Report prepared for the Diocese.
Deacon Michael Jackson Sr., who spoke on behalf of the Diocese, said construction would be implemented in phases. St. Therese Chapel will be constructed first.
The chapel “is intended to appeal to the community of Coral Bay as well as visitors to the island,” according to the environmental report. Construction for the entire project is expected to take four to five years.
The complex is designed to meet a variety of community needs on the eastern end of St. John where public facilities are limited. “The Community Center will be available to host town meetings, before and after school children’s programming, exercise classes, and serve as a banquet hall for church functions,” the report states.
The nearby Catholic Charities Center “will have a full commercial kitchen to serve the community on a daily basis,” according to the report. The first story includes a reception area, bathrooms, and a transitional housing unit that is accessible to the disabled, Jackson added.
The second story includes eight-bedroom units for individuals needing temporary shelter that can be configured to accommodate a family. Jackson said security will be provided when the structure is completed. The two-bedroom nuns’ residence includes a loft space and is designed to house two to three nuns year-round.
The plan for the complex was completed in 2021, but the Department of Planning and Natural Resources staff discovered that the site’s B-2 zoning (business/secondary) had been changed to C (commercial) in 1987 and did not permit the construction of a church.
The Diocese applied to change the zoning back to its original B-2 designation. The application was approved by the V.I. Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. several months ago.
The design for the complex has gone through some modifications in the past year, according to architect Erin Lieb of the Barefoot Design Group.
A survey of cultural resources completed by CocoSol International, Inc, of Orlando, Florida, in May 2021 showed the presence of a historic cattle dip, a grave, and pottery shards. Lieb redesigned the driveway to protect areas found to have some historical and cultural significance and to improve the flow of traffic.
Following Jackson’s presentation, CZM committee members had few questions aside from clarifying the zoning issue.
Committee member Rafe Boulon asked if the community center could serve as a hurricane shelter. Jackson said the building would be built to be hurricane resistant and would include a generator, but because the site is within the flood plain, the building will not qualify as a FEMA-designated shelter.
Sharon Coldren, president of the Coral Bay Community Council, suggested planning for additional parking spaces, and Rachel McKinley, CBCC’s environmental projects manager, wanted to make sure a stormwater runoff plan was in place.
The only other member of the public to testify was Abigail Schnell O’Connell, a member of the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church which has been active in providing services for the homeless and the needy on St. John. “I want to speak in favor of this project,” she said, her voice cracking slightly with emotion. “It’s a positive change that our community needs.”