Grande Bay Resort came under fire from a Department of Planning and Natural Resources senior planner, a condo owner and residents during a rezoning request public hearing at the St. John Legislature Building on Thursday night, October 1.
While the Grand Bay zoning amendment request raised a number of issues, a less controversial request was also presented at the public hearing, which drew about 35 people. Boynes family members shared their request to rezone parcel no. 131 in Estate Enighed and Contant in order to develop a post office.
Most of the meeting was dedicated to Bay Isle Associates LLP, developers behind the condominium complex Grande Bay Resort along the Cruz Bay waterfront. The developers have already constructed four of the project’s planned six buildings on two parcels which are zoned R-4, residential medium density.
The developers are requesting a zoning change on an adjacent parcel from W-1, waterfront pleasure, to R-4, in order to construct a six-unit condominium building — the fifth building, called Building E — and an administration building with a sundry shop.
While W-1 zoning allows for a myriad of construction activities, from a marina to a dock and other businesses, the maximum residence allowed is a two family unit. Hotels are allowed on W-1 parcels, but must be on lots consisting of at least three acres. Bay Isle’s W-1 parcel is only 0.288 acres.
Under its current permit, Bay Isle is allowed to construct a 12-bedroom two-family dwelling on the parcel. With the zoning change, developers are requesting to build nine bedrooms in six units in the building and reduce the structure’s footprint, according to current project architect John Bedminster.
“We’re seeking to amend the zoning to R-4 from W-1 to consolidate the parcel with the larger two parcels we have already completed construction on,” said Bedminster. “The R-4 zoning would allow us to reduce the density of the project and undo the spot zoning that occurred many years before.”
Bay Isle has already completed construction of what developers called a “shell” on the site, which reflects what they are requesting, not what they are currently permitted to construct, according to DPNR Division of Coastal and Comprehensive Zone Planning senior planner Julius Jessup.
“My problem is that your property is zoned W-1 which allows for a two family residence and the building on the site in no way meets a two family dwelling unit,” said Jessup. “Essentially your building is a zoning violation. My problem is that this has been pushed aside and not addressed by anyone.”
While the official correspondence read by DPNR staff at the public hearing included two letters from the developer to the department, it did not include a letter written by Jessup to DPNR CCZP Director Marjorie Emmanuel raising his violation concerns.
St. John resident Pam Gaffin, who spoke against the rezoning request, submitted Jessup’s letter as part of her testimony, making it part of the official record.
In the letter, Jessup raises density and height concerns regarding Grande Bay’s Building E.
“While the building permit states that the building is a two family dwelling unit of three stories, a review of the plans makes it fairly obvious that that assessment is incorrect,” Jessup wrote to Emmanuel in May 2009. “There is nothing about this plan’s unit density that makes it acceptable as a two family dwelling unit.”
Jessup’s concerns were raised with DPNR’s legal counsel, who determined Bay Isle was not in violation of its permit, according to Emmanuel.
Five people spoke in favor of Bay Isle’s rezoning request, emphasizing the project’s ample parking and near completion and the company’s community support.
“I’m in support of this project,” said Julian Harley. “There is plenty of parking, the density is down and the infrastructure is there like for any other building in Cruz Bay. They’ve also done a lot for the community.”
Four people spoke against the rezoning request alleging developers are not building what was originally planned or permitted.
After building something illegal, Bay Isle partners are now requesting a zoning change to make what is already there legal, according Attorney Michael Sheesley, representing Grand Bay condo owner Greg Jefferson.
“Building E has been in violation since the inception of the permitting process,” said Sheesley. “They are not addressing the issue that they have built something that is in violation. They want you to rezone this parcel to permit a building they’ve already built in order for it to be in compliance.”
Despite the developer’s assertions that the rezoning would scale back the density of the project, it will do the opposite, according to Gaffin.
“The rezoning request boils down to Bay Isle Associates requesting four more units to increase the amount of its tax free profit,” said Gaffin. “Four more units are not going to result in more jobs to benefit St. John. The only persons to benefit will be Bay Isle LLP partners who will have four more units to sell and short term rent.”
The request will next be presented at a public hearing before the V.I. Legislature, which has not been scheduled yet. Senators will vote on the request and forward the decision to Governor John deJongh. DPNR has 30 days to make a decision on the rezoning request, and will then prepare a report which will be presented at the legislature’s public hearing.