Oct. 29, 2005 — St. John residents showed up at a Coastal Zone Management public hearing Wednesday to protest a $24 million affordable housing project in Estate Calabash Boom.
On Thursday Sen. Celestino White issued a press release blasting the protestors. He said, "Here we go again. This is another attempt by area residents to stop our people from enjoying the vistas and beautiful valleys of our homeland typically set aside for high-end condos and vacation homes. The developer of the Coral Bay project is the same company who built Lovenlund Apartments high on the hill at Magens Bay and their concern for the environment and ability to deliver a quality product has been attested to under the watchful eye the V.I. Housing Finance Authority."
On Friday, protestor Alan Smith was asked if that was the group's intent to keep low-income people out of the area. He answered "Absolutely not." Smith said he was strictly concerned with the environmental impact of the project on the area.
To back up his concerns he sent the Source a report by Barry Devine, an ecologist with Landwatch Environmental Consulting. The report was submitted to the Friends of Coral Bay earlier this month.
Devine wrote that the report is based on field visits to the area, which is in the Coral Bay watershed, information in the public record and information supplied by the developers, Reliance Housing Foundation.
He wrote that "Coral Bay watershed, one of the largest watersheds in the territory and by far the largest on St. John is the fastest growing area of the Virgin Islands according to the 2000 V.I. census. The Coral Bay area, about 7 percent developed, is negatively impacted by this rapid growth and infrastructure issues which include single road access, traffic and construction traffic, electric outages, water quality, waste and rubbish collection, fire and police protection and 911 life saving rescue. No obvious government efforts are underway to comprehensively address and alleviate these infrastructure problems. The Calabash Boom project will increase the population of Coral Bay and the Calabash area by 72 units alone, leading to a 25-50 percent increase in population over the next few years. The proposal claims no impact on schools or service needs, because the new residents will all be local residents and not new families. This claim seems unlikely as the experience of most communities is that population increases and development bring new residents and incur numerous daily costs from garbage to crime prevention. Many towns and cities use impact fees to offset the financial burden of development. The impact of this project will be broadly felt throughout the community and the island."
White countered that argument saying, "The comment that the development fails to secure affordable housing for St. John residents and that Snow Birds will move in is ridiculous. It has not happened at Lovenlund on St. Thomas or Bellevue on St. John and it will not happen in Coral Bay. You can be assured of that."
White also said that it was his understanding that the environmental issues have already been addressed for the development and that the areas is zoned for even higher density then the project will have.
"Basically, they are telling us that firefighters can come to your area to protect your homes but they can't live next to you. I will stand alone, if necessary, to ensure that residents of St. John are afforded every opportunity to live in the most desirous areas of their island," White concluded.
Devine addressed this issue in his report.
"The community resources, the present infrastructure and absence of government planning cannot adequately support this level of population increase in this area all at once."
Devine also raised concerns about the development's impact on the nearby marine life. He suggested a development of lower density so there is less stress placed on the coral reefs and sea grass beds.
Julian Harley, St. John CZM committee chairman and St. John administrator, presently off island, has reportedly told the developers to address residents' concerns by Nov. 2.
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