Senate Approves Zoning Variance for Sirenusa

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With the only dissenting vote coming from St. Thomas Senator Louis Patrick Hill, the 27th Legislature voted 13 to 1 to approve Sirenusa’s zoning variance request on Tuesday evening, April 17, on St. Thomas.

Sirenusa’s five-acre Estate Enighed site overlooking Cruz Bay was changed from R-2, residential low-density, to R-3, residential medium-density, in order for the developer to build two four-story buildings and one three-story structure.

The vote, which was not on that day’s legislative session agenda, was introduced by St.Thomas Senator Celestino White with six minutes remaining in the session, according to published reports.

Wesselhoft Votes Yes
Senator at Large Carmen Wesselhoft, the only Love City resident in the legislature, voted in favor of the rezoning.
Several Crucian senators then followed her lead, going along with the rezoning request after Wesselhoft cast her vote. Senator James Webber did not vote on the request.

The Senate’s approval came after two well-attended public hearings on St. John which drew a number of people opposed to the zoning variance request.

More than 100 residents attended a December, 2006, Division of Comprehen-sive and Coastal Zone Planning (CCZP) meeting in Cruz Bay regarding the request. Twenty-five people went on the record against the project at that hearing, while no one spoke in favor of the request.

Employees Show Support
A  March Senate Meeting of Whole at the Cruz Bay Legislature building also drew a large number of people, many of whom were employees of the developer and were awarded a paid day off to attend.

Crowds of employees and their families – many clad in Sirenusa T-shirts and hats – chanted and cheered their boss outside the building more than 30 minutes before the start of the hearing. A number of residents who wished to enter the legislature were forced to listen to the proceedings from outside until space became available inside the packed conference room.

Despite the large turn-out, 21 testifiers went on the record against the rezoning request, while eight people testified in favor of the project.

At both hearings, CCZP Acting Zoning Administrator Marjorie Emanuel raised concerns regarding exactly what Sirenusa developer Carlo Marzano was requesting.

“It is difficult to ascertain what has been requested,” said Emanuel in March. “The application needs to be clear.”

While buildings with a maximum height of six-stories are allowed in R-3 zones, a variance will only allow seven additional units to be added to the already permitted 32 two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom units, according to Marzano.

The additional units are needed in order to make the project financially viable, he explained.

“Financially Feasible Project”
“I have a construction loan and the bank could pull the loan if this is not a financially feasible project,” Marzano said at the March hearing. “If the variance is not granted there is a very real chance this project will have to shut down.”

The seven additional units will be erected above the top floor of existing structures located on the southern-most portion of Sirenusa’s site, with no additional excavation taking place.

It remains unclear if the zoning variance nullifies Sirenusa’s original group dwell-ing permit, changing setback, parking, density and easement regulations.

The original group dwelling permit for the luxury condominium development called for the construction of 40 living units in 28 two-story structures. Citing bad topography maps and surveys, the site was too steep and contained too much rock to construct 28 buildings, Marzano explained.

Karr Condenses Buildings
Project architect William Karr then re-designed the site, condensing the 28 buildings to 15 and raising their heights.

While the architect contends that he submitted modification requests to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, department officials say they were never received.

DPNR issued Sirenusa developers, Enighed Condominiums LLC, a cease and desist order in March 2006 after three- and four-story steel structures were already erected at the site.

The order was eventually lifted to allow construction to continue on the buildings allowed under the R-2 zoning.

The zoning variance will now go before Governor John deJongh, who will have the final say on the matter.

As news of the zoning variance approval spread across St. John, residents quickly circulated leaflets urging people to telephone or email deJongh, requesting that he veto the bill.

DeJongh has ten days to act on the bill from the date when the bill is formally forwarded by the Senate president to the Governor’s office, which usually takes several days.

Call 774-0001 to contact deJongh or email  john.dejongh@go.vi.gov.