Home Commentary Op-ed RECENT HIGHWAY TEAM STACKED AGAINST PLAN 8

RECENT HIGHWAY TEAM STACKED AGAINST PLAN 8

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I was very pleased to be personally invited by the Chamber of Commerce to attend it’s workshops on finding new ideas for the waterfront project. After attending a slide show in the Chamber’s meeting room and the presentation of the team they put together at the Haagensen House, I came away with the feeling that it was an effort by some to destroy Plan 8 and put forward their own agenda. I was surprised to some of the same old faces on the team that were responsible for the problems in Charlotte Amalie in the first place, and this was a disappointment. The team was stacked with opponents of Plan 8 and there was no voice for it, so I can’t call this entire team credible.
One of the members of this team is a Charlotte Amalie store owner who had the gall to verbally attack me at the slide presentation. They tried in vain to discredit Edith Woods, chairperson of the Historic Preservation Commission, and her position on Plan 8. This happened in front of the gathering, where they said, and I quote, "Your leader, Edith Woods was never interested in Plan 8 until her son got involved in it." Well, for their information, they are sadly mistaken. A vote was taken by the Historic Preservation Commission, 2 years ago, by 6 independent thinking commissioners who are aesthetic and practical minded, to support the concept of Plan 8, and this was long after her son was involved with the waterfront project. Only after this vote did Edith Woods become actively involved with the Plan.
Furthermore, when we are all dead and gone, Edith DeJongh Woods, will be remembered and honored as a Virgin Island heroine for her unflinching and strident support for historic preservation in Charlotte Amalie, for no more infills and additions or wavering of parking and her vocal defense against abject greed, piratanical types, philistines and profiteers. The store owner will be remembered for not leading by good example, by having an oversized sign, filling in a fire safety easement for more square footage, and also for erecting a lit sign against signage regulations. They spread disinformation about Plan 8 so they can win their crusade at any cost and when they cannot get their own way, they try to discredit the good name and hard work of the HPC and it’s Commissioners.
I will be damned before I lie down and see all the good works Edith Woods and the Commission have done, to be defamed by any self serving individual. Yes, I support Edith Woods 100%, and so do thousands of Virgin Islanders.
Historic Charlotte Amalie and the Historic Preservation Commission are not anyone’s private preserve, and the Commissioners are not put there by the Governor to be ruled by anyone to do their bidding, and just to think this is because Plan 8 will move the ships’ tenders from docking where they now dock, over to the old boat houses.
Another team member, an architect, came to the HPC for approval to build a large addition with a dome on to the Senate Building. If the use of this building has become too small for the Senate they should do the right thing like the former occupant Charlotte Amalie High School did, find larger quarters and do not disfigure this architectural gem and it’s surrounded space. The application for this disfigurement was unanimously turned down by the HPC. This team member spent most of the time denouncing Plan 8 without offering any constructive criticism. The other team members were refreshing voices with lots of positive ideas, few solutions and plenty of wishes.
The good thing about this whole exercise was the large input by the invitees. Talking about who was invited, the HPC was not, and anything that happens with the waterfront has to become before this Commission for approval. Also the Saint Thomas Historical Trust was overlooked although the workshops were held in Haagensen House, their headquarters. Hundreds of residents in Savan were forgotten. They are the largest group of homeowners in Charlotte Amalie and would be directly affected by anything done on the waterfront. Another group of residents that were overlooked are the thousands of commuters that use the highway from east to west and vice versa. I have gotten phone calls from supporters of Plan 8 or some sort of highway that skirts Charlotte Amalie. This would allow traffic to go from the airport to the Ritz Hotel without getting stuck in town. Maybe some sort of highway/exit plan would be a great help as any traffic bound for town would exit, leaving an express lane past town.
I understand the fears that business people have about a construction site on the waterfront. We went through 3 horrible years when the "Waterfront Beautification Project" was perpetrated on the business community. Ugly concrete walls, ugly lighting, and senseless sidewalk designs with brick edging was the result, without funds for landscaping upkeep. Businesses failed all around me and faithful workers had to go without Christmas bonuses for years. The entire project had no historic features, for instance, where is the stone work the Virgin Islanders are famous for, historic lighting, etc. etc.? And to think that Commissioners from HPC at that time were responsible and financially involved with contracts from this debacle. This is a perfect example that no one should be on the HPC who can gain financially from projects that pass through their hands for approval. Only persons with a love and commitment for a beautifully restored town should be on this Commission.
For business people in town to go against Plan 8 because they are losing income is a double edged sword. Any waterfront project has to be done properly with all the monies in place and a proper timetable. Everybody in St. Thomas should be able to reap the benefits, not just a few with bottom line considerations, and I think it is wrong for the detractors of Plan 8 to throw out the baby with the bath water.
By the way, for those who care about the future of St. Thomas as a tourist destination, Cuba’s door is ajar. It’s great historic city, Havana, the most famous Spanish Colonial City in the West Indies, has a 4 lane highway, a walking promenade and a sea wall along it’s waterfront and harbor. I rest my pen, for now.
Philip Sturm

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