Senate blocks GERS zoning request, preventing progress for planned hotel and convention center on St. Thomas


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ST. THOMAS - Senators voted down a zoning request from the Government Employees' Retirement System on Monday, preventing the pension system from moving ahead with a plan to build a hotel and convention center on St. Thomas.

The retirement system bought 120-acres in Estates Hoffman and Nullyberg in 2006 for $4.5 million. GERS is planning a multi-use development to include a hotel, convention center, restaurant, office space, senior living facility and 105 single-family home lots.

The rezoning requested is for Parcels A-1 and A-2 in Estates Hoffman and Nullyberg from A-1 (agriculture) to R-3 (residential medium density) with a use-variance to allow professional offices. The change would allow for the hotel and convention center.

In addition, Parcel A-Remainder in Estates Hoffman and Nullyberg would need to change from A-1 (agriculture) to R-2 (residential low density one- and two-family) to allow for single-family home lots.

While some senators approved the project, others were dubious that the development project would be a wise investment for the pension system.

"It's not to say that St. Thomas does not need this, I just don't think that this is a project that GERS needs to be a part of," Sen. Judi Buckley said. "I think we need to be a little more fiscally responsible."

Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly said she opposed the bill because not enough investment and development has been planned in the St. Croix District.

"In my opinion, not one stone should be moved in this district until the St. Croix District gets the attention it deserves," she said.

Sen. Tregenza Roach said his problem with the zoning measure is that it was not properly evaluated through the committee process.

The measure was heard and passed in the 29th Legislature, but Gov. John deJongh Jr. vetoed it because he said there was an error in the bill's language. At the time the governor said the measure needed to be corrected and resubmitted before he could sign it into law.

According to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone, the Legislature's legal counsel advised that the measure did not need an additional hearing, as it already went through the Senate's committee process and no substantial changes were made to the legislation.

Roach took exception to that, reminding the body that eight senators in the 30th Legislature were not a part of the 29th Legislature.

The zoning request failed, with six senators voting in favor, eight voting against and one absent.

Senators voting in favor of the zoning change were Craig Barshinger, Donald Cole, Clifford Graham, Alicia Hansen, Malone and Clarence Payne III.

Voting against the bill were Senators Buckley, Diane Capehart, Kenneth Gittens, Myron Jackson, Terrence Nelson, Rivera-O'Reilly, Roach and Sammuel Sanes.

Sen. Janette Millin Young was absent from Monday's session.

The Senate also took the following actions Monday:

- Approved a zoning change for Jean Annie Persad and Bhagwandeen Persad to change Parcel No. 405, Estate Hospital Ground, No. 9 New Quarter, St. Thomas, from R-2 (Residential-Low Density, one- and two-family) to B-2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood) to finish construction and convert the structure into a guest house with retail space on the third floor.

- Approved a zoning change for Thomas John Baptiste and Alphonsus Madir to change Parcel No. 23-B-1, estate Mandahl, Great Northside Quarter, St. Thomas, from R-1 (Residential-Low Density) to R-2 (Residential-Low Density, one- and two-family) to subdivide the property into two ΒΌ-acre lots so that ownership can be divided between two property owners.

- Ratified a Coastal Zone Management permit and lease to Dopetri, Inc. for continued use and occupancy of 11,993 square feet of filled submerged land with an existing two-story building in Sub Base.

- Ratified a CZM permit for the University of the Virgin Islands to reconstruct a dock and concrete ramp in Estate John Brewers Bay.

- Ratified a CZM permit and lease for Tropical Shipping for continued occupancy of 15,162 square feet of filled submerged lands in Crown Bay used for paved parking.

- Confirmed the renominations of Donald Francois and Cheryl Boynes-Jackson to the V.I. Water and Power Authority Board.

- Confirmed the renomination of Violet Ann Golden to the Casino Control Commission.

- Overrode deJongh's veto of a bill to use the Enid Baa Library exclusively for archives and records management. At the time of the veto, the governor said the building does not meet the federal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and would be an inadequate facility for the territory's archival material.

- Overrode a veto on a measure reauthorizing expired funds - in the amount of $450,000 - to be used to build a fence and install security lighting at Joseph Gomez Elementary School. The funds were encumbered and still should be available, but the authorization to use them had expired.

At the time of the veto, deJongh said the measure would decrease the government's cash flow and place a greater strain on the government's finances.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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