What do St. Croix and St. John have in common in 2023? They both have a housing crisis and neighborhoods that don’t want housing development.
In January, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. rejected rezoning an area in Beeston Hill on St. Croix which would have allowed condominiums to be built. Residents were vocal in their opposition.
On Monday, it was a St. John developer Ari Goldschneider, the owner of the property near the Gifft Hill soccer field, getting pushback from his neighbors.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning conducted a virtual public hearing, attended by 44 people, on Goldschneider’s proposal to give 72 residents a place to live. To get his proposal through, he needs to get a zoning change, just as the Beeston Hill developer needed. The Senate approved the Beeston Hill zoning change, but it did not get past the governor, who said putting large, dense commercial development and condominiums in the center of a well-established, sedate neighborhood was a non-starter.
Gov. Albert Bryan’s remarks at the time of his veto resembled residents’ remarks on St. John Monday.
As happened on St. Croix, a petition protesting the development is being circulated. It had eighteen names at the beginning of the hearing but during the meeting, at least eight other people indicated they wanted to sign it.
Goldschneider said what he was proposing was different. In the public hearing announcement, it was referred to as a boarding house, but during the hearing, it was decided it would be better described as a lodging house.
His company Gifft Hill Land wants to build six buildings. Each building would have 12 bedrooms. Each bedroom called an en-suite, would rent out for at least $1,500 a month. The en-suite —a single-person living unit—would surround a common living area. Each private en-suite will include a bedroom, bathroom, refrigerator, and removable two-burner cooktop. The common area would include a full kitchen, dining, and living areas.
Goldschneider said he is building the lodging units out of modular steel containers. He said the modular construction would enable construction to be completed within six months.
He said the project would satisfy a need St. John had for housing its workforce. He said he already had 70 people on a waiting list for the housing.
Although the application for the zoning change from low-density residential to high-density emphasized the housing would be for long-term rentals (defined as over 90 days), residents questioned whether it would alleviate housing problems for local people and instead just be utilized by temporary workers in the restaurant business.
Parking was also another concern of residents. Michelle Herzog, who owns a nearby property, commented about the proposed 45 parking spaces, “You could have a lot more cars than 45. Can you assure us that they won’t end up parking on Gift Hill Road, in the school parking lots across the street, or in neighboring driveways, including mine, causing significant disruption and chaos?”
Another concern was traffic safety. Another nearby resident David DiGiacomo posted, “This project is across the road from Gifft Hill School and almost immediately next to a dangerous curve. What will you be doing to address the hazards that your predicted traffic will create, including hazards to parents and children traveling daily to and from school either by foot or by car?”
The petition said the signers were “ardently opposed” to the development. It called on DPNR to revoke any permits it had issued to the developer and issue a cease and desist order on any further work being done on the property.
Goldschneider has already received a permit from DPNR to construct two buildings on his 1.14-acre property with 24 en-suite units.
Anyone who would like to comment on the project should email firstname.lastname@example.org by June 6.
Editor’s Note: St. Croix’s zoning request and St. John’s zoning request were not exactly the same. The St. Croix request would have also allowed business development besides condominiums, while St. John’s doesn’t.