Jan. 9, 2006Mandahl residents are organizing to fight a development in their area.
The proposed development, according to residents, would allow for the construction of an 85-slip marina at the salt pond at Mandahl beach, along with a convenience store, restaurant, and a launching pad for fishing boats.
At a community meeting held at Mandahl beach Sunday afternoon, several residents also said the developer, Mark J. Smalls of MJS Realty Inc., has leased the 25 acres of land around the pond which he plans on selling in half-acre lots for the building of residential homes.
"Its not that we're against development," Anna Francis, the organizer of Sunday's meeting, said. "It's just that this is an old community, and we don't want to destroy it. There are only a few beaches left for us, the residents of this island, to go to — and this beach is one of them."
Francis further said it is important for community members to protect the mangroves surrounding the salt pond, and proposed turning the area into a wildlife sanctuary. "As a teacher, I bring my students here every year to learn about the ecological significance of the mangroves," she said. "This is one of the only true salt ponds on the island, and should be preserved."
Other residents said the area around the salt pond would have to be rezoned W-2 (Waterfront Recreational) to allow for the construction of the marina and other developments. While residents did not know what the land was currently zoned, they said any change in the zoning would result in increased traffic to the area, and a change in the condition of the beach.
"I grew up picnicking here and the beach used to be so beautiful," Francia Brin, a Hull Bay resident, said. "I want to be able to continue to take care of it, but if more people would be coming here all the time, then that's going to be impossible."
Jason Budsan, a member of the Northside Civic Organization, urged residents at the meeting to fight the rezoning by attending any future hearings on the matter. "If we stick together and tell these officials that we don't want this to happen, they'll listen to us," he said.
Budsan said that any rezonings would have to be considered by the Senate's Committee of the Whole before they are sent to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for approval. He said residents should talk to senators about developing a comprehensive land and water use plan, and supporting planned developments instead of spot rezonings.
However, residents said they did not know whether Smalls has yet submitted any proposals to Planning and Natural Resources or applied for Coastal Zone Management permits to develop the land.
Residents were also concerned that the construction of the marina would mean no shelter for the community's boats during a hurricane. "The space in the marina would probably go to those individuals who are buying the lots and developing new houses down here," Francis said. "That means, in the advent of a hurricane, we the community, have nowhere to put our boats."
Francis added that Smalls' development is tied to future development on Hans Lollick. She said Smalls held shares on the island, but sold out to the current developer. "This marina, however, will allow the people who are moving in to develop new houses here to go over to Hans Lollick," Francis said. "Unfortunately, for us, that means the beach will be taken over, and the price of our land will increase because of the value of the new houses which will be constructed in the area once all the lots are sold."
After all the issues were discussed, residents decided on a course of actionto put as much work into preserving the beach as possible. "This way, the developers will see that we have a vested interest in this land, and that we don't want to just give it up," Edie Pasek, a longtime Mandahl resident, said.
Together, the community members developed and assigned a list of duties, which includes gathering more research on Smalls' proposal, cleaning up Mandahl beach on a regular basis, and making signs and posters to educate other St. Thomas residents about the issue.
They also plan to meet at the beach every month to continue the meetings.
"I've been trying to fight this for the past three years, and it's time the community get concerned about what's happening," Francis said. "We want to protect our area, and it's more important for us, the people who live here, to decide what we want to do with the beach, instead of allowing a developer to come in and take over."
Francis said the developer Mark Smalls spoke to her about the development several months ago. She said Smalls, who was not in attendance Sunday, wanted to get input from the community.
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