St. John is at a crossroads. Do we admit that outside developers have taken over St. John, or do we stand together and demand that our government follow the laws and regulations that protect us?
While St. Croix needs more development, St. John needs to catch its breath. Explosive development on St. John means that there is no planning; the roads and sewers and water cannot keep up; and the land prices are skyrocketing.
Fellow Virgin Islanders, a young man or woman growing up on St. John today cannot afford to buy a house. A house costs $1 million now. Young people are forced to stay with their parents or move off-island.
St. John culture is being slowly but inexorably obliterated, while some well-positioned people get rich. The controversial Sirenusa condominiums are slated to cost well over $1 million each. Sirenusa is doing nothing to help the St. John housing crisis. On the contrary, it is fueling the crisis.
The recent Sirenusa rezoning under the sponsorship of Senator White was slipped into the waning minutes of legislative session. It passed. (No St. Johnians were in the legislative chambers, the bill wasn’t even on the agenda.) The bill was sent to Governor deJongh, who has 10 days from Monday, April 30, to sign or veto it.
Daily I am asked why the senate took this action. I cannot tell you because I was not there when the decision was being made, but I do have a small piece of the story to share with you: That which transpired on the night of March 23, 2007.
The legislative Committee of the Whole met at 6:30 p.m. on St. John to hear testimony on the Sirenusa rezoning request. It was a crowd of several hundred, spilling out of the chambers into the street. The Sirenusa developers had packed the chambers with their workers (who were being paid). Many persons outside wanted to testify, but the signup sheet was not being circulated to those outside.
I got a pad and pen from Legislative staff to allow those outside to sign up to testify. Senator White saw what I was doing and launched a tirade about my not being a senator, and he instructed the sergeant-at-arms to forbid me from approaching the steps leading to the chambers. Nonetheless, I circulated a sign up sheet outside. Thirty additional St. John residents signed up to testify. (The vast majority were opposed to the rezoning.)
I managed to get the sheet of testifiers in to senate president Usie Richards, and he graciously and appropriately allowed all testifiers to testify. Senator White noted that by allowing additional testifiers it was defeating the strategy of packing the chambers with Sirenusa employees; he tried to block my action. Fortunately someone else carried the sheet of testifiers into the chambers for me.
I felt it was important to reveal this, because Senator White stands in opposition to St. Johnians. The St. Johnians he opposes are black and white, young and old, man and woman, native and immigrant, rich and poor. He stands with developers who have no long-term connection to St. John.
Senator White is hypocritical. He portrays himself as being for the black, native Virgin Islander. Yet time and again he votes for rezonings that erode our local culture and local way of life. Does Senator White’s clowning around give him the right to destroy Virgin Islands culture from within? Remember Botany Bay.
I am taking aim at Senator White’s hypocrisy because I am well-aware that the Senate Fox has the ability to persuade others to do his bidding. But I will not stand by and say nothing while he is hurting us, the people of the Virgin Islands, by his style of “leadership.”
Carmen Wesselhoft is his protegee. In December she was against Sirenusa’s exploitation of St. John people and laws. I spoke to her on this issue personally, outside of Mooie’s in Cruz Bay. Now she is our Senator At Large. What changed her mind?
I close with the following points:
An average St. Johnian has to follow DPNR’s rules, and cannot get a special rezoning. Why should outside developers receive waivers for the rules that our own people struggle to follow?
Last summer and fall, native Virgin Islanders called me, pleading for relief, to report jack-hammering on Sundays, boulders and muddy run-off sliding downhill off the Sirenusa property. In the recent rains, unchecked storm water flooded those in Pine Peace, below Sirenusa.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources recommends against the rezoning.
Legislative Legal Counsel issued a special warning with the rezoning bill 27-040. It was not approved for legal sufficiency, because it is legally flawed. This is rare, and only happens when the sponsoring senator ignores legal counsels’ expertise and orders them to prepare a bill they know to be legally flawed.
Sirenusa was permitted for two stories, they built four stories. Sirenusa violated its permits in several other ways. Does the Virgin Islands reward such disrespect by granting them a rezoning to render their transgression suddenly legal?
Sirenusa is already built. If the zoning remains as it is, it will be sprawling, but at least with a two-story height. R-3 zoning means four stories, more units and more profits for the developer. Not more benefit for St. John.
As a senator, I always listened first and foremost to the neighbors in rezoning requests. In this case, the neighbors are unanimously opposed to the rezoning. Who is more important, the neighbors or the developer?
The St. John workforce is already fully employed (in fact, 600 people come from St. Thomas every day to work construction). Sirenusa rezoning has no positive effect on St. John employment.
Stateside developers have heard they can make a bundle on St. John, pay no impact fees, and that local authorities will play along. St. John is in big trouble if developers continue to believe we have no principle other than “sell to the highest bidder.” We must show them that we are are a wonderful place to live, but that our laws must be adhered to.
With the help of my colleagues, I appropriated $75,000 plus benefits for a professional Civic Planner in the DPNR 2007 budget. The money is waiting…St. John cannot wait any longer. I call on Governor deJongh to hire the planner for St. John.
I call on the senators to forego an override attempt. I remind Senator At Large Carmen Wesselhoft of her words on the day she was sworn in, “Some people say that I am in Celestino White’s pocket, but I have news for you, Celestino White is in my pocket.”
I call upon St. Johnian Carmen Wesselhoft to stand with the people of St. John, and say “no” to an expansion of Sirenusa.
Lastly and most importantly I call upon the people of St. John to continue to use your political voices. There are those who would divide us. But our connections are deep, and our differences superficial. Sirenusa has displeased St. Johnians on many accounts. Let our governor and our senators hear your voice. Ask your elected leaders to represent you with integrity and respect.