“They want to change the zoning to build 128 new units,” said one neighbor.
“Once they change the zoning, they can do whatever they want at the site,” said another neighboring resident,
Rumors and allegations about the 40-unit luxury condo development Sirenusa are nothing new, but since the developers of the five acre site overlooking Cruz Bay announced their request for a zone change from R-2 to R-3, the talk has reached fever pitch.
Sirenusa developers will present their case for a zone change at a public hearing on Tuesday, December 12, at 10 a.m. at the Cruz Bay Legislature building before Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) representatives.
Requesting Zone Change
If approved, the request will go before a V.I. Legislature Com-mittee and finally the V.I. Senate will have the last word.
Now, for the first time in two years of construction, the developers are talking publicly.
“I keep hearing a lot of information that’s not accurate,” said Sirenusa owner/developer Carlo Marzano. “If I believed all of the rumors I’d be freaked out too. I just want to get the facts out — I’m tired of the inaccuracies.”
First of all, developers are asking for a self-imposed restriction, which will allow them to only construct six additional units, with their zone change request, Marzano explained.
Variance Not Allowed
“With our group dwelling permit, we can’t request a variance,” Marzano said. “Under the R-2 zoning, we can build two levels and a loft and all we are requesting is to build an additional six units. We are asking for a restriction to only allow for the six additional units.”
Three of the buildings on the lower portion of the five-acre Sirenusa site overlooking Cruz Bay are designed as traditional condominiums, with tenants sharing common walls, according to Marzano.
The buildings are currently designed as two stories high with a loft, which comprises 30 percent of the unit’s square footage area, he added.
The zone change would only affect those three buildings, by adding three units to one, two units to the next and one unit to the last building, Marzano’s representative Gene Skoff explained.
“The footprints of the buildings are the same with or without the additional units,” said Skoff.
“We have taken so many losses with the delays and re-designs and everything,” Skoff added. “The six additional units will allow further financing for us to continue to finish this product.”
Sewage and Water
The additional units will not affect the development’s sewage or waste water facilities and will not raise the roof level since they would be only as tall as the loft, Skoff added.
The recent zone change request is not the first controversy to arise at the Sirenusa site, and Marzano admitted the construction process has been difficult.
“It’s been a school of hard knocks thing,” said Italian-born and St. Thomas-raised Marzano. “We never meant for the process to go this way. It’s been extremely difficult and there is enough blame to go around, from our architects to the vagueness of the codes.”
Original plans for Sirenusa called for construction of 40 units in 29 buildings, including the clubhouse.
Eighteen of those 29 buildings were originally permitted to be three stories high, Skoff explained.
“Before ground-breaking we knew we had to consolidate some of the buildings,” said Skoff. “We ran into big veins of rock and we wanted to consolidate so there would be fewer buildings and more green space.
There wasn’t going to be any increase in the number of units or any impacts on the sewage and water systems.”
Plans were altered and the units were condensed to 14 buildings and the clubhouse.
“There would have been less congestion and less construction,” Skoff said.
The altered plans included four-story buildings, and the developers were assured by their architect, St. Thomas-based William Karr, that modification requests would be submitted to DPNR.
“He told us to go ahead with construction and that by the time we reached the fourth floor, the modification requests would be in,” said Marzano.
That, however, was not the case and in late March DPNR officials issued a partial cease and desist order on the planned four-story buildings.
The confusion led to DPNR revoking Marzano’s original permit allowing for three-story buildings, explained Skoff.
“We had the signed and dated permits allowing us to build three levels,” Skoff said. “Then that permit was revoked and we went back to the drawing board.”
Site and floor plans were re-designed again to reflect the two-stories-and-a-loft buildings now allowed under the new permit.
Construction at the site has continued with a number of the 14 buildings nearing completion.
In fact, 11 buildings located on the upper portion of the site are expected to be completed in April or May, 2007, with the three lower buildings and the clubhouse slated for completion in August or September, 2007, Marzano explained.
Marzano and Skoff have been friends since their childhoods on St. Thomas and say they are not just about making money.
“Being from the Virgin Islands, I want to raise a family here someday,” said Marzano. “I wanted to do something that would do justice to the beauty of the islands. I know there has been a lot of change here and that it’s a very delicate and sensitive time.”
“There is anxiety and fear about any development,” Mar-zano continued. “There is a perception that we’re trying to get something over on people, but I’m not here just to make money. I’ve been here more than 20 years — I don’t want to be hated.”
The developers are dedicated to using native plants and natural stone, to make the site blend in with its surroundings as much as possible, Skoff added.
“We are Virgin Islanders who love the Virgin Islands,” said Skoff. “We’re not here to do a one-off project and leave. It’s about making a beautiful legacy.”
Love Site, Love Island
Despite the difficult road he traveled for his first major development in the territory, Marzano said he thinks the project will be a success.
“Looking back, it’s definitely been a very, very tough time,” said Marzano. “But I still love the site and I love St. John. I think the project will be a great success and be among the most beautiful developments in the Virgin Islands.”
When completed, the gated community will consist of either 40 or 46 two-, three- and four-bedroom units spread out in 14 buildings. A 16-foot-wide one way road will wind through the five-acre property with cascading landscaping.
The clubhouse will include a health spa and dramatic fountain spilling into the common pool.
“It’s going to look like a little Tuscan village that will lend to the beauty of the island,” said Marzano. “That has been my intention the whole time.”