Governor deJongh Says Sirenusa Rezoning Disregards Law
A V.I. Senate override of Governor John deJongh’s veto of Sirenusa’s rezoning bill faces an uncertain future while the developer of the $35 million development warns the project my be shut down by its financers costing more than 100 jobs.
The zoning variance was approved by the 27th Legislature in a 13 to 1 vote in April, with the lone dissenting vote coming from St. Thomas/St. John district Senator Louis Hill.
The zoning variance would allow Enighed Condominiums LLC to construct seven additional units in the luxury condo project overlooking Cruz Bay originally approved by zoning officials as 40-units on approximately five acres of R-2 land.
Senate approval came despite objections from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the legislature’s legal counsel.
The additional units are necessary for the project to be completed, explained Enighed Condominium owner Carlo Marzano after the governor’s veto.
Developer Is “Out of Money”
“We’re out of money,” said Marzano. “These seven units are not for me to make a profit, they are needed for me to finish the project. This project will shut down and will become an eyesore if I don’t have the seven units.”
“There is no more money and the bank will not finance the project with 40 units,” Marzano added.
DeJongh, agreeing with DPNR officials and the senate’s legal experts, sent down his veto on Thursday evening, May 10, one day before the deadline to take action on the bill.
Zoning Variance Illegal
“While the proposal may have some beneficial economic impacts, the Virgin Island Zoning Code requirements were dispensed with, thus depriving parties of due process and demonstrating a disregard of existing law which my Administration cannot condone,” deJongh wrote in a letter to Senate President Usie Richards accompanying his veto.
“Specifically, and without limitation, the suggested zoning variance contained in this Bill is not authorized by any provisions of the zoning laws of the Virgin Islands,” according to deJongh’s letter.
Senators must come up with 10 votes for an override of the governor’s veto, which can be introduced any time the senate is in session. There is no deadline for the senators to act. The next legislative session is scheduled for May 29.
In the wake of Gov. deJongh’s veto, several senators voiced their support of an override, including the sponsor of the bill, Senator Celestino White, who introduced the measure in an unexpected move minutes before a legislative session was due to end on April 17.
“If I wanted it then there is no reason why I wouldn’t want it now,” said White the day after deJongh’s veto. “When I voted for it in the first place, I voted for it only because I thought it was right. Nothing has changed to tell me I should change my position.”
White Will Take Another Bite
“Now the legislature has another bite of the apple,” White continued. “The question is who would take that other bite and who wouldn’t.”
St. Croix District Senator Norman Jn Baptiste confirmed his support of an override as well.
“I don’t necessarily agree with the governor and what he has said,” Sen. Jn Baptiste said. “I think we ought to reevaluate how we approach development. We have to build vertically as opposed to horizontally in order to maximize our limited space in the territory.”
Gov. Must Produce Employment
“Secondly, given the needs of the government in terms of financial resources we have to be able to maximize every opportunity we have,” Jn Baptiste continued. “We must also be able to maximize every opportunity to produce employment for our people.”
“Therefore, being for economic development I, more than likely, will support an override of the governor’s veto,” said Jn Baptiste.
Senate President Usie Richards will also support an override.
“I usually know what I’m doing, so I don’t have second thoughts,” Richards said.
Several senators who originally voted in favor of the zoning variance will reevaluate their positions and analyze the governor’s stance.
“I have no comment right now because I have to read the governor’s veto,” said Senator Shawn-Michael Malone. “I am hearing conflicting stories and need to verify things. I will take another look at the DPNR report and legal counsel’s opinion.”
Senators To Reexamine Positions
Freshman Senator Basil Ottley took the same position.
“Essentially I haven’t seen the veto message yet and I am going to wait to read it,” said Sen. Ottley. “We will have some discussions about the issues the governor raises and will reexamine some of the reasons we used to make our decision to see if we would be in favor of an override or not.”
Veteran Senator Liston Davis intends to study the legality of deJongh’s reasoning, he explained.
“I have to basically analyze what the governor’s message is before I would decide whether to support an override,” said Sen. Davis. “I will study whether the governor’s opinion is legally correct or not. As of now I don’t know.”
Senator at Large Carmen Wesselhoft — who took flack from a number of Love City residents for her support of the zoning variance — declined to comment until she took a closer look at the veto, explained Wesselhoft’s spokesperson Nicole Bollentini.
“The senator is not in her office and is in a meeting,” said Bollentini. “She won’t be commenting until she has a chance to thoroughly review the governor’s veto message.”
Several other senators reserved comment.
“The senator will discuss the veto on the floor of the legislature when it comes up,” said Senator Carlton Dowe’s chief of staff regarding his position. “He has no comment at this time.”
Sen. Louis Patrick Hill, the only dissenting vote to the original sentate approval, reiterated his opposition to the zoning variance.
Hill Still Opposes Rezoning
“I voted against the rezoning and I wouldn’t change my vote on that if there was a move to override the governor’s veto,” said Sen. Hill. “I attended the public hearings on St. John and spoke to numerous St. Johnians about this issue.”
“It’s obvious that the community doesn’t support the rezoning and additionally DPNR and the legal counsel all seem to have difficulty with the rezoning,” Sen. Hill continued.
Senators Terrence Nelson, Alvin Williams, Neville James, Juan Figueroa-Serville and Ronald Russell, who all voted in favor of the zoning variance in April, could not be reached for comment by press time.
Sen. James Weber, who did not vote on the initial measure, was also unavailable as of press time.
St. John Coalition members, who urged the veto, were pleased with Gov. deJongh’s move.