Coral Bay Community Council members agreed to have further meetings to discuss the use of a five-acre parcel of land recently proposed to house Department of Public Works equipment at the group’s Monday evening, October 23, meeting at the John’s Folly Learning Institute.
Approximately 20 people attended the meeting to hear Department of Public Works Commission-er George Phillips discuss his department possibly taking possession of a five-acre parcel in Estate Carolina for an operations center and VITRAN bus storage facility. DPW St. John Deputy Director Ira Wade was also present at the meeting. Land Not Transferred
Although the land has not been officially transferred from the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation to DPW by V.I. Gov. Charles Turnbull, the governor “has approved that we can utilize the site,” Phillips said.
DPW would use the land to house equipment and VITRAN buses, but would not do any repair work at the site, Phillips added.
“It’s more economical for buses to start in Coral Bay,” he said. “That is part of why we need a Coral Bay location. Some of our buses must be housed there.”
DPW does not need the entire five acres, which leads to the possibility of the site housing both DPW equipment and recreational facilities, Phillips explained.
Although he initially hesitated to put an exact number on the amount of land his department would need, “less than an acre would probably be sufficient,” Phillips said.
“Make Everyone Happy”
“The kids really need a playground out here,” said CBCC member Lori Walden. “Maybe we can make everyone happy and have some land for a playground and recreation and some land for the buses and other equipment.”
Phillips warmed to the idea immediately.
“I’m open to suggestions and I’ve heard a good one here tonight,” he said.
CBCC board members and HPR Commissioner Ira Hobson toured the land in question, at 6-4 Estate Carolina, last year with the intent of creating recreation facilities on the land.
Intended for Recreation
The V.I. government purchased the land about 20 years ago from the Marsh family, and although there is nothing in the deed which states the land must be used for recreation, family member Lorelei Monsanto insisted that was her relatives’ intention.
Much like St. Croix, St. John has two distinct towns and Coral Bay, with its increased development, needs more services, according to Phillips.
Coral Bay Needs Government Services
DPW only has one operations center, located at the Susannaberg Transfer Station, forcing workers to transport all equipment to Coral Bay when work needs to be done on that side of the island, the commissioner explained.
“When we have to transport equipment from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay on a daily basis, think about the wear and tear on our workers — they are only humans — and think about the dangerous machinery we must transport,” Phillips said.
“I am telling you this so you can truly understand why we’re looking for land in Coral Bay,” he continued. “Each town on St. John must have government services. We want to make Coral Bay more self-sufficient.”
Because of the threat of vandalism and robbery, DPW officials can not leave their equipment at a private residence or on a public road, Phillips explained.
“Public Works must have a presence in Coral Bay,” he said. “There is only one available piece of real estate that is government-owned and not used. Don’t agitate against this and then say ‘I want things done quicker,’ without giving me the tools.”
Look at Church Land, Says Phillips
While Phillips said he “had no vested personal interest” in the site, residents will “have to live with problems” if DPW does not have a Coral Bay operations center, the commissioner warned.
Residents should turn their attention to the Mora-vian Church-owned ball field, Phillips added.
“We do have a recreation site, on land owned by the church,” Phillips said. “It would be in the best interest of the community for residents to rally behind the governor to purchase that land from the church and make it a recreation area.”
Residents at the meeting, however, were not convinced by Phillips’ argument.
“The church has their own plans,” said Monsanto, who owns land adjacent to the proposed DPW Coral Bay operations center. “The ball field won’t be a ball field as we know it now — we can’t fool ourselves.”
HPR doesn’t have the funds to clear the land, which has been used as an illegal dump site for years, Phillips also alleged.
“A tremendous amount of excavation would be needed on the site to make it adequate for recreation,” he said. “HPR doesn’t have the funds to transform the property. I know I have the financial resources to cover my costs.”
Buses Before Kids
Another neighboring land owner, Lori Francis, voiced her opposition to the DPW operations center proposal.
“I have 385 feet of frontage on this property,” she said. “I bought my property with the idea that my kids would be able to use the park. This is personal for me.”
“I’m attacking the government for not thinking this all the way through,” Francis continued. “The government doesn’t put the children first — they put the buses first.”
Phillips did have not plans to share at the meeting and explained that building designs would would not be drawn until after the land was transferred. CBCC members did not agree with this approach.
Show Plans First
“Why don’t you come up with a plan and then we’ll decide as a community,” said Brian Bell. “Let’s not give you the land and then you come up with a plan. Don’t take the land until you have a plan.”
The DPW Commissioner was open to a mixed-use plan for the five-acre Coral Bay parcel.
“I have no intention to use all five acres when we don’t need five acres,” he said. “I have no hidden agenda — all my cards are on the table. Let’s do what’s in the best interest of the community.”