Development on St. John

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Editor,

It’s time for a reality check.
For some time, I’ve been critical of the island development, particularly the monster homes and McMansions so different from the Caribbean cottages we found here in the late ‘70s. But at some point, you have to grow up and realize other people have found the island, too. Get over it.
In most places, if the Ritz or Four Seasons said it wanted to build a resort in town, people would applaud and governments would rush to provide tax incentives to make a deal happen. Development means construction jobs now, service employment later, and new tax revenues from the groundbreaking to operation.

Besides, if you’d like to see what a freeze on construction can do, remember what the sub-prime mess has done to the nation’s economy for the past 14 months. Real estate sales are down as much as 15 percent (slowing on St. John, too). The ripples of that weakness have turned into waves of pain for retailers, professionals, transportation companies, banks, and more. We’re all feeling it.

Chances are the town where you were born is different, too. And if you lived there more than 10 years, you probably said to your neighbor, “Boy, has our town changed!” Well, it’s the same thing here. You can’t expect St. John to stay as it was 10, 20, or even five years ago. It’s not an island in aspic.

I’m also going to suggest that the folks buying these new condos and timeshares won’t get in the way of eco-visitors or beach-and-a-book types like me. The folks at Pond Bay, for instance, will do everything they can to keep guests on the property — their own beach, restaurants, gift shops, watersports, etc. I suspect, unfortunately, they will be successful. It’s not often you meet someone staying at Caneel having dinner at Fish Trap or even Paradiso. Tourists who want the kind of all-in-one cocoon experience they will find at Pond Bay are unlikely to leave the enclave. I wish they would. The downtown restaurants can use the business. (Some are even closed on weekends, partly because the villa renters are eating in.) I’d like the high-end resort tourists to get out and see the beaches and the hikes, but as someone recently said when I encouraged him to see the North Shore, “You’ve seen one beach, you’ve seen ‘em all.”

I think that what really galls people about the island’s development is the government’s failure to exploit and manage it. Granted, this is not Bermuda, where comfort, appearance and image are primary. Grande Bay and Sirenusa show that hearings and permits and procedures don’t seem to matter much. The consequences are projects that are too big, too close, and too dense.

The other irritant is that those extra tax dollars don’t seem to have any effect on island. Gift Hill and the North Shore roads are a parade of potholes, there is no safe pedestrian path from the ferry dock to Mongoose, finding a parking space is a fantasy, and Cruz Bay Park is too busy and noisy and dirty.

Whatever it is that attracted you to St. John, chances are it’s still here. Francis Bay has pelicans. The Reef Bay hike has petroglyphs. East End has Vie’s Snack Shop. Coral Bay has Skinny’s. Hawksnest is a great beach.

When you came for the first time, you “found” St. John. But even then, you could have found people who said, “You should have seen this five years ago.” Time does fly.

-Frank Barnako