St. Croix residents in a few years might be able to have their wedding receptions at the Great House at No. 10 Estate Grange, Company Quarter, then wander the gardens looking at old Danish statues and the place where Alexander Hamilton’s mother is purported to be buried.
The first step to make this historic area open more to the public, as the current owners see it, is to get a zoning change.
Steve Baker, one of two property owners of Estate Grange, presented his case for a zoning variance at a Department of Planning and Natural Resources public hearing in August.
Friday, he was at the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing continuing the process to obtain the variance for a residential low-density zoning designation on the parcel in Estate Grange, Company Quarter. The parcel includes a little over 26 acres.
At the meeting, senators posed questions to Steve and Young Baker, the property owners. A decision on whether to grant the variance to allow for office space, event building rental, solar and wind energy development, research and testing of technology, agricultural production and sales, and short-term housing at the property will be made in a full Senate session.
When questioned about what he meant by solar and wind energy development, Baker, an electrical engineer and business developer, said he would be testing how to develop an affordable kit, combining alternative energy with batteries to get a home or business producing its own power. (A solar vendor on St. Thomas offered such a kit 20 years ago, but it did not catch on; only a couple sold. Technology has become more efficient, and costs have dropped since then.)
Senators also had questions about the agricultural end of the project. Young Baker said the vegetables grown would be the ones you see commonly on your table. She said a retail store would be set up on the property frontage on Queen Mary Highway.
Steve Baker said as for growing marijuana, the answer was “a definite no.”
The property is located between the St. Croix Tennis Club and the Public Works Department’s buildings, and there is little besides light residential development in the area.
Steve Baker, who manages Sericore V.I., said the industrial use of the property would be for the assemblage of electrical and emergency communication devices. Sericore V.I. currently operates out of the overseer quarters converted to office space. The plans are to expand the company’s development center to hire software developers, a design engineer and facilities staff.
Sen. Marise James said the proposed development would be “a wonderful economic development for St. Croix.”
Young Baker said when all was complete, 50 people could be employed in the various areas.
Sens. Novelle Francis and Kenneth Gittens expressed regret that the government did not buy the historical property when it had the opportunity. The Bakers bought the property from the Armstrong Trust in 2021.
Francis emphasized that all aspects of the site’s history, including the parts the enslaved people played, must be highlighted. Young Baker said the site would have a kiosk with historical details and would be open for visiting hours.
The Bakers also said a team of stateside university students would arrive in May to do an archaeological study of the area.
Steve Baker said he works in the Great House but wants to add three or four employees and then 10-20 more as they develop solar, wind technology, and agriculture programs on the property.
Baker said the great house and five structures, as well as some of the ruins in the village, could be made livable. They want to rent the Great House for public and private events and weddings. Eventually, he said they will renovate other buildings on the property for short-term and long-term rentals.
Baker said the variance would allow additional employees to work on the property, and then they would repair the Great House and improve the surrounding gardens. The second phase will include storing equipment and machinery to test energy options and to grow climate-controlled produce.
Originally, the property was a sugar plantation and then used for botanical experiments for the king of Denmark. Young Baker said it had also spent a period as a hospital.