When they turned on the video projector to adjust the image on the screen dominating the V.I. Legislative Chambers on St. John, the title jostled up and down as the technician adjusted a few books on the edge of the testifiers table to support the projector.
“Review of Development Moratorium Options.”
The crowd filling the legislative seating watched the jiggling graphic with rising anticipation as they waited for Wanda Mills-Bocachica, Director of Planning for the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), to begin testifying before Senator at Large Carmen Miranda
Wesselhoff’s Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice.
Mills-Bocachica greeted Senator Wesselhoff warmly as she noted her close relationship with St. John and the St. Johnian senator since her appointment as Director of Planning.
Moratorium Study for Wesselhoff
Senator Wesselhoff requested DPNR study development moratoriums — which the DPNR official did not advocate — shortly after Mills-Bocachica was appointed, the planning director explained
The presentation by Leia La Place of the DPNR’s Division of Planning was in response to Senator Wesselhoff’s request, not a proposal by DPNR, Mills-Bocachica reminded the audience.
In her testimony, Mills-Bocachica outlined DPNR’s plans for the updating and approval of V.I. development law and the territory’s Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan. The planning director acknowleged that there was much work to be done.
“We have problems, big ones,” she said.
“We’re desperate,” Mills-Bocachica told senators of DPNR’s need for stronger regulations. “I can’t wait for public hearings and senate approval to tell me what to do.”
St. Johnians Question Moratorium
When it came time for public comment, however, a potential development moratorium brought strong opposition from St. Johnian testifiers.
“I know there are very few of us families that own large tracts of land,” Yvonne Wells of Coral Bay told the senators questioning the idea of a moratorium on the heels of a property tax revaluation. “We haven’t seen the bills yet.”
“My family was not ready to do anything until recently to develop our property.” Wells added. “I’m hoping we don’t decide on a moratorium and squeeze those of us who have a little land.”
“After that the only thing left is for us to pack up our bags and leave,” Wells added. “We’re not going to do that.”
“I’m going to look out for the people of St. John,” said St. Johnian Senator at Large Wesselhoff.
Sen. Dowe Supports Wesselhoff
St. Thomas Senator Carlton Dowe, who has strong connections to St. John through his political and fire fighting career, backed-up Senator Wesselhoff.
“The horse is out of the barn,” Sen. Dowe said in opposition to any moratorium which would prevent native St. Johnian property owners from developing their land while they are facing increased property taxes. “You can’t pull the ladder out from under them.”
“This is what I’m supporting,” Sen. Dowe said of his position protecting native property owners from a moratorium on development.