St. John Tradewinds News

Residents Circulate Petition Supporting Calabash Boom Affordable Housing Site

As construction of the planned 72-unit affordable housing community in Estate Calabash Boom continues to linger, more than 200 residents have thrown their support behind the project.

A petition calling for construction to commence at the roughly eight-acre site on the island’s south east shore has garnered more than 200 signatures, according to Alvis Christian, executive director of the John’s Folly Learning Institute and a staunch supporter of the planned housing community.

“There are so many people wondering what is going on with the project and I said ‘I don’t know, but if indeed you want to see this happen, let’s put our efforts toward finding out what’s going on,’” said Christian. “I wanted people to show their support by signing a petition and I got more than 200 residents to sign their names.”

The petitions will be disseminated to all members of the 27th Legislature, Christian added.

Affordable Housing Is Needed
Affordable housing is one of the most pressing needs on St. John and the government has limited land, explained Christian.

“Right now where we stand this is possibly the only area that is left for affordable housing which is critical here on St. John,” he said. “We need to look at the future and figure out how to obtain more land for affordable housing, because it’s going to be needed.”

“Right now the government doesn’t have any land here,” Christian continued. “It’s the same problem we are facing with the relocation of the school.”

Homeownership is not even a distant dream for the average Love City resident, according to Christian.

“Decisions have to be made in terms of how we are going to acquire land or where the land is going to come from for future generations because right now, the average person in the Virgin Islands can’t afford to buy land much less build a home,” he said.

Residents Deserve “Piece of the Rock”
“When the government is doing its part to make sure that Virgin Islanders get a piece of the rock, it is unconsciousable that you have various groups who would want to stop that process,” Christian continued. “The problem is not going to go away. It needs to be addressed.”

Although some groups contend the project is a danger to the environment, Reliance has complied with all Department of Planning and Natural Resources requirements, according to Christian.

“This project has gone through every process that DPNR and the agencies within DPNR have asked of them,” he said. “It’s not a question of they haven’t fulfilled the requirements of DPNR. Since they have answered everything DPNR has asked, I don’t understand what the environmental issues are now.”

A collaboration between the V.I. Housing Finance Authority and Florida-based Reliance Housing Foundation — the same company behind Bellevue Village on Gift Hill — the medium- to low-income housing project in Estate Calabash Boom has been delayed for months.

Major Permit Granted Late 2006
The St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee granted Reliance a major CZM land and water use permit in early December 2006, to construct eight six-unit apartment buildings and twelve duplex townhouses in Estate Calabash Boom.

The permit required Reliance officials to submit all necessary territorial and federal permits before commencing any work at the site. Neighbors in the area, however, notified CZM members that construction had begun before all permits were in place and the committee issued a cease and desist order on January 16.

Original plans for the Calabash Boom development  included the construction of a reverse osmosis plant, which was eventually scrapped in favor of using existing wells and roof catchments on the property.

Friends File Complaint
Reliance officials submitted a modification request reflecting the altered water source in February. The modification was approved and the cease and desist order was lifted on March 13, when Reliance was seemingly ready to commence construction.

An ad hoc group called Friends of Coral Bay, however, alleged that the development would cause serious adverse effects to nearby Johnson Bay and brought their case to district court before Judge Curtis Gomez. The judge issued a temporary restraining order in January.

That restraining order expired months ago, but both parties still await Gomez’s final ruling in the case.

In the meantime, Friends of Coral Bay — which is represented by Attorney Alan Smith — filed a complaint with the Board of Land Use Appeals on March 20, which automatically halted the project.

No Hearing Scheduled
The seven-member board usually convenes a hearing within 60 days but due to problems forming a quorum, the hearing for the Calabash Boom project has yet to be scheduled.

The Friends agreed to Reliance’s request for an expedited briefing and hearing by the Board of Land Use Appeals, according to a brief filed in the latest phase of their case dated April 24.

“The position of the Friends of Coral Bay in these proceedings has been and continues to be that it very much appreciates the need for affordable housing on St. John, and it does not oppose affordable housing in Calabash Boom,” according to the brief.

“Friends are firm supporters of well-planned affordable housing in St. John, including such housing for the Coral Bay community, but it does insist that the people of St. John are entitled to have such housing, like all construction, based upon proper environmental review and careful balancing of density decisions, so that the very people such housing is intended to benefit are not forced to reside in a development where they must join their neighbors in watching the beauty of their neighborhood eroded by the effects of bad planning on the part of the developer,” according to the brief.

Friends of Coral Bay have recently hired an engineer, according to Reliance President Robert Jackson.

“We’re hoping that the few people opposed to the project, who have now hired an engineer, will find out there is nothing that poses an environmental danger,” said Jackson. “They have hired an engineer to review the factual information in our plans.

Pre-viously they were looking at the information as laymen, but these are complex engineering drawings.”

Engineers Collaborating
The Friends’ engineer will collaborate with Reliance officials to resolve any concerns and hopefully gain support for the project, Jackson added.

“I expect the result will be they will realize there is no danger to the environment and they’ll get on board and we’ll get this thing started,” said Jackson.

Time is of the essence, as Reliance’s estimated $30 million in tax credits which is funding the project, will be void if the development is not completed by December, 2009, according to Christian.