DPNR commissioner calls for Bournefield units to be preserved as historic
Published: August 16, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Historic preservationists have entered the fray over the piecemeal demolition of units at the Bournefield housing community, with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources calling for a section of it to be protected permanently from destruction.
As the owner of the 42 World War II-era homes, which once served as naval barracks, the V.I. Port Authority has battled Bournefield tenants for years over its plans to demolish the homes and put the 8 acres to more profitable use.
A demolition attempt without a permit in 2010 led to the V.I. Legislature requiring ratification of any redevelopment and relocation plans.
The Port Authority has submitted a request for proposals for developers to build a new housing community on a site above the units and to relocate tenants, who pay reduced rents, to the new development, according to Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe.
In a letter to Dowe dated July 12, DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes said it is an "unfortunate oversight" that the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office and the St. Thomas-St. John Historic Preservation Commission were not consulted prior to the demolitions in July and August of unoccupied Bournefield units.
"I endeavor through this letter to articulate and outline all of DPNR/VISHPO/HPC requirements before any further demolition will be allowed to take place within the Bournefield Housing Community," Barnes' letter states.
Those requirements are:
- That units 201 to 218 be designated a preservation area.
- That units 226 to 252 be designated a demolition area and that the Port Authority document all the units in the area according to standards established by the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record programs.
These federally adopted programs require photographic, architectural and written documentation of historic places within the United States.
Barnes acknowledged in the letter that the Port Authority would prefer to discontinue the use of Bournefield as a residential rental property. She proposes instead to have the units in the preservation area be repurposed as a commercial "Hi Tech" park "that can both generate interest in the area and provide positive cash flow for" the Port Authority.
Barnes cites the connection of the homes to the former World War I and World War II U.S. Naval Station in Estate Lindbergh Bay and their status as such under the National Historic Preservation Act and the V.I. Antiquities and Cultural Properties Act in the letter.
These pieces of federal and local legislation obligate governmental entities that control historic sites to maintain and preserve structures deemed culturally significant, according to Sean Krigger, acting director of the State Historic Preservation Office.
Barnes concludes the letter by saying: "Executive Director Dowe, we cannot alter these historic resources without full documentation of their historical significance to the community. It is incumbent upon us to exercise due diligence to follow the letter of the law so that future generations will not look back and associate this undertaking with disdain on our government, specifically VIPA and DPNR."
As the entity that controls the issuing of permits for demolition, DPNR has the power to halt future demolitions at Bournefield.
Dowe said the Port Authority has no more immediate demolition plans but remains unwavering in its commitment to the eventual demolition of all units and to Bournefield's redevelopment plans. He said he will have discussions with Barnes and members of DPNR in the coming weeks.
"We will be meeting with DPNR next week. We are executing our plan. That's it. I have nothing else to say about Bournefield," Dowe said.
Krigger said Barnes' plan is an attempt to balance the need to preserve historic structures in the Virgin Islands with a push to develop and improve land use.
"We recognize that every structure in Bournefield is historic and every structure is eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but we also recognize that the Port Authority does have a need for expansion," Krigger said. "This plan is a compromise to allow for both."
Josephine Lindquist, president of the Bournefield United Tenants Association, expressed dissatisfaction with the plan.
Lindquist has been leading the call for the current tenants to have a clear-cut path to home ownership, and the group opposes any plan that would lead to eviction and relocation.
Lindquist questioned why Barnes would have allowed the demolition of two units on July 3 to take place after having discussion with Dowe on the matter July 1, discussions to which Barnes' letter makes reference.
A second demolition took place Aug. 8.
"I don't understand why she did not shut down the process," Lindquist said. "I am not happy with what Alicia Barnes did. I think she did it haphazardly, and I do think there is collusion going on between these two departments by virtue of the fact that she told them not to do anything and they went ahead and did it anyway."
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.