Smith Shares Draft of First Module of New USVI Development Code

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DPNR Planner Stuart Smith discusses the first draft of proposed changes to the V.I. development code at the Guy Benjamin School.

About a dozen people heard an overview of the first draft of modular one of the proposed changes to the USVI Development Code at a Coral Bay Community Council planning meeting on Monday evening, March 14, at the Guy Benjamin School.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Comprehensive and Coastal Zone Planning Director Stuart Smith shared the recently compiled section of the code, modular one, which deals mainly with administrative and procedural provisions of the development code.
DPNR contracted consultants from Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy to take a look at the existing code and write a new one. The project launched in August 2010, and when it wraps up, officials hope the document will get approval from the V.I. Senate.
“This was determined to be the easiest thing for the legislature to stomach and our best chance to make any changes in the next five to 10 years,” said Smith. “We’re going to take the inside of the book and make as many changes as we can. We’re also cleaning up how you find things in the book and we’ll take the CZM and Earth change regulations and put them all in one book.”
Rutgers consultants assessed the existing development code and then visited all 16 zoning districts in the territory, Smith explained.
“They went out and saw what was being built on the ground,” he said.
A total of five to six modules, which will be drafted about every six weeks, will be prepared by the consultants with input from DPNR staff and the public is welcome to comment on the document as well.

 

The first module draft, a 60-page document available at www.dpnr.gov and at CBCC and DPNR offices, addresses seven articles in the code: legal framework; definitions and interpretation of language; territorial comprehensive plan; review and decision-making bodies; development review and approval procedures; nonconformities; and violations and penalties.
“My view on what changed substantially in this section is that we spent a lot of time to do a framework for a Territorial Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan,” said the CCZP director. “There is no time frame outlined, but DPNR is mandated to have a Territorial Comprehensive Plan and we know there were issues when previous plans were attempted.”
The draft module lays out the framework for a Territorial Planning Commission comprised of commissioners from various government departments which would be affected by any such plan, Smith explained.
“The different commissioners would then look at their land uses, their projected needs and be able to communicate across the board for future planning,” he said.
The finished document will not include a Territorial Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan, which would redraw the islands’ zoning maps and be subject to senate approval. Instead, the new development code will be designed to encourage site-appropriate development, according to Smith.
“If no plan is passed, we can put things in the code that will steer people to what they should be building in a certain area,” he said. “Like for steep slope development we can put in density standards for certain steep sites. But we don’t want to confuse people, change classifications or take away anyone’s property rights.”
The new development code will not change the territory’s current zoning map, but is being designed to give the islands the best subdivision and zoning laws available, Smith explained.
“We’re spending a lot of time on this because we want to be left with the best subdivision and zoning laws that we possibly can,” said the CCZP director. “We’re changing some of the wordage, but we are not changing the zoning map. When this is done, your property will be the same zone it is now.”
“We want to allow people to build, but also to sustain the environment,” said Smith. “This document is designed to protect property owners, not the government of the Virgin Islands.”
The draft of module one is available online at www.dpnr.gov, at CBCC’s office in Coral Bay and at DPNR’s St. John office located near the Elaine I. Sprauve Library. Smith is available to answer questions about the draft as well.
For more information call Smith at 774-3320 or email smith@dpnr.gov.vi.